TIFF 2014: Tusk Review
Tusk starts with a Based on Real Events card that, despite the outlandish premise, is actually true: Kevin Smith and co-podcaster Scott Mosier read a housing listing during an episode of Smodcast, in which a homeowner was offering a living situation free of charge, if the lodger agrees to dress as a walrus. The ad turned out to be a hoax, but it sparked Smith’s creativity and now we have the story brought to life as a body horror dramedy.
As a Kevin Smith fangirl I knew I was going to see this film at all costs, and it was well worth the 3 hour wait in line. Especially because during the wait we were gifted walrus masks to wear in the theatre, to help realize Smith’s dream of seeing a sea of walrus faces looking up at him. I went in expecting body horror comedy and drama, and got all that I wanted and more.When the trailer debuted at San Diego Comic Con, director Kevin Smith sat back and marveled at it himself. “I love the way they cut this trailer, because they don’t actually show him in walrus form. It leaves a bit a mystery, like this could all just be a psychological thriller…..But make no mistake, we turn Justin Long into a fuckin walrus!” And so they did! Tusk is not a suspense thriller race-against-the-clock to save a man from being turned into a walrus. It is the story of what happens to a man’s mind when the change happens.
Michael Parks, as recluse Howard Howe, was just fantastic, taking what is on its face a rather silly mad scientist role, and instead turning it into a chilling portrayal of what neglect and abuse can do to an impressionable psyche. Few men could take on lines like “Is man, indeed, a walrus at heart?” and make them sound earnest.It is good to see Parks and Smith continue their work together after Parks’ amazing work in Red State. They are clearly a great team. Justin Long as victim Wallace almost takes a back seat to Park’s controlled crazy, but after having seen Long emote from within a walrus flesh suit, I have to give him huge props. Genesis Rodriquez was also a great choice for what could simply have been the Girl character, making her real and sympathetic alongside the Best Friend character played by (he’s back!) Haley Joel Osment. And let us not forget the utterly bizarre performance from one Mr. Guy Lapointe, which added some much needed levity to the horrors of Tusk.
In the Q&A Smith said that his only real talent is in pointing the camera at amazing actors and filming them while they monologue, but he sells himself short in that he is the man behind the words. Smith is a consummate storyteller and has crafted a tale that could have just been a Human Centipede ripoff, but instead manages to have real heart while still being completely ridiculous and entertaining.
Near the very end of this film, during a particularly tongue-in-cheek ‘poignant’ scene, my friend turned to me and asked “Is this supposed to be serious?”. Moments later, in the Q&A, Kevin Smith said outright: this is a joke. And, I for one, am glad to be in on it. While TUSK will no undoubtedly be billed as a Thriller-Comedy, I fear that the Comedy aspect may be lost on those who aren’t familiar with Smith’s podcast, and those who didn’t have the privilege to watch the film with him personally. It’s not the witty-repartee, sarcastic humour we’re used from Smith’s View Askewniverse – which is refreshing!
As someone who didn’t see Red State, this was my introduction to Michael Parks. Wow, what a talent. For us to believe this film isn’t a sort of mocking parody of thriller films, we need to believe the intentions and motivations of Howard Howe – and boy-o do we. He’s insane. He is effed up, big time – and we get to see his twisted mind in the flesh in the form of Justin Long’s transformation into Walrus.
The film itself has some pacing issues, the first half of the film whizzes by, and get to the Man-into-Walrus point fairly quickly. Once French-Canadian Homicide Detective Guy Lapointe arrives, as part of the search party, the film slows down to a crawl. I don’t necessarily blame Smith for this – as I think he wanted to save every precious moment of film he had with the actor, as would I – even if the performance was entirely silly and unbelievable.
Overall, I’m proud of Smith for this venture, I think that it will find its place in the heart of cult movie fans, and the perfect “Oh Oh, Have you seen it …? It’s so F’d up!” film.
See our full Gallery from the TUSK Premiere