“However, despite its comedic roots being clear and identifiable, make no mistake, Tusk is also a dark comedy. Very dark; a film I would say is a comedy playing dressup as a horror film.”

 

 
by Steve Pulaski

“Is man, indeed, a walrus at heart?” – Howard Howe (Michael Parks) in Tusk.

It is a strange kind of irony that, ever since Kevin Smith announced his retirement from writing/directing his own films in 2011, he has never been more active, hosting an online TV show, a network TV show, and churning out a multitude of different projects left and right. The last six years of his career have been devoted to making films we never thought Smith would make, such as a raunchy comedy in the vein of Judd Apatow, a buddy-cop comedy, a horror film centered on the religious world, and, finally, one of the most dumbfounding horror-comedies I have yet to see.

Kevin Smith’s latest film, Tusk, is his best venture outside of his trademark View Askewinverse, which included Clerks and Chasing Amy. Tusk is the most indescribable film event of the year, destined to be questioned by some but equally loved and cherished by many, such as myself. These past six years, even if I didn’t care for a specific Smith film that resided outside his comfort zone, I nonetheless admired his efforts to change course and embark on uncharted territory for himself. Tusk represents, what I feel, is a new chapter in Smith’s career, as new trilogy – by the name of True North – is born and we are greeted with new characters, a new world, and a new style.

Tusk
Written & Directed by
Kevin Smith
Cast
Justin Long, Michael Parks, Haley Joel Osment
Release Date
19 September 2014
Steve’s Grade: A-

The film centers on Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) and his friend Teddy Craft (Haley Joel Osment), two goofball podcast hosts where Wallace shows his friend Teddy funny videos and awaits his over-the-top reaction. The two cannot stop laughing at an internet video showing a geeky kid, who accidentally slices his leg off with a katana, a video that has now gone viral. In response, Wallace flies out to Canada, against his loving girlfriend Ally’s (Genesis Rodriguez) wishes, as she feels that he has grown more exploitative and mean-spirited in recent years, to interview the kid before he discovers he has commit suicide. Desperate for an interview for his podcast, Wallace responds to a flier about an old man who lives in the backwoods of Manitoba and has a wealth of stories to tell about his time lost at sea. Wallace eagerly goes to the old man’s residency, driving two hours on the outskirts to his large mansion.

The old man is named Howard Howe (Michael Parks), and, despite his eccentric mannerisms and eclectic way of speaking, Wallace goes along to hear his stories, sipping tea in the process. The man tells about how when he was lost at sea, he befriended a walrus, and considers the walrus the most noble of all mammals, even more superior than humans. Wallace winds up passing out from the tea, waking up in a wheelchair, with his left leg amputated. The man claims a spider bit his leg and the swelling resulted in a doctor amputating his leg in the process. It doesn’t take long for Wallace to realize the old man has seriously deranged plans for him, and will carry out a plan of turning helpless Wallace, through a series of intricate operations and tests, into a walrus.


Tusk immediately brings to mind The Human Centipede, but make no mistake, while the latter film was concerned with shock so much so that the film became a redundant ride through monotony during the second and third acts, Tusk has much more life and spirit to its material. For one, the film functions brilliantly as a satire on the cliches of Canada, finding ways to belittle the beloved people but simultaneously show their intelligence beneath their quirky exterior. Furthermore, the film is also littered with humor, thanks to the likes of Long and Osment being such fun actors to be in the presence of for an extended period of time.

However, despite its comedic roots being clear and identifiable, make no mistake, Tusk is also a dark comedy. Very dark; a film I would say is a comedy playing dressup as a horror film. The scenes between Parks, who is even more sinister and fantastic here than he was in Smith’s Red State, and Long are tremendous exercises in slowburn tension, uncertainty, and suspense. In addition, the scenes where Howard is training his creation make for incredibly offbeat and deranged sequences that, as strange as they are, implore you not to look away because of the sheer madness that is occurring before you. The film houses scenes and images you cannot unsee, especially the final scene, and for that, leaves an impact on the viewer that will linger long after the credits roll.

This is less a review for Tusk and more a collection of disjointed sentences describing the experience. Even upon exiting the film, I wasn’t sure how to digest the material accurately. This is material that almost warrants itself not to be rated in a conventional sense. I’m glad I saw the film, for it’s one of the most original films I’ve seen in years, exercising its idea to the fullest extent, but I cannot accurately find the words to describe it or the means to justify its greatness. I will say that the film will understandably be lost on mainstream audiences, and the fact the film found a way to get into an upwards of six-hundred theaters is a pretty incredible feat. The idea for the film stemmed from an episode of Kevin Smith’s podcast SModcast, where he proposed the idea and asked listeners to tweet “#WalrusYes” or “#WalrusNo” to say whether or not they wanted to see the idea adapted into a film. If you’re not invested in Smith’s SModcast world, chances are, the films quirkiness and dryer humor will be lost on you. However, the film’s performances (including a very special one by an actor I refuse to name) are something I think most people can see as admirable (if they’re not too shocked by what they’ve seen), and the originality is something I feel can also be adequately embraced as well. I’ll stop now before I completely erode all of my reviewing professionalism, and because you now have a demented masterpiece to witness, if you already haven’t.