'Tusk' Is A Bizarre Fever Dream Courtesy Of Kevin Smith

By Anthony Taormina
Released: September 19, 2014
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From the singular mind of writer/director and podcaster Kevin Smith, and conceived from one of Smith's own Smodcasd's, Tusk is a story unlike anything that has ever been committed to screen before.

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Film Review
Tusk is one of the most bizarre movies to release this year. In fact, it might be one of the most bizarre movies you'll ever see - depending on your tastes. The brainchild of comedic writer/director Kevin Smith, Tusk is hardly a comedy, but its absurdist nature and unbelievable premise are fuel for the most uncomfortable of laughs. To put it another way, Tusk is a movie that makes no qualms about its aims, and really goes for it - to the point you hardly believe such a movie was made. You won't necessarily be happy you saw it, but you won't be disappointed either. If that sounds a little wishy-washy, it's because the film is a hard one to nail down. It's not qualitatively good and it's not qualitatively bad; it simply exists to leave you saying, "Well, that was weird."

Tusk's basic premise centers on a man named Wallace Bryton (Justin Long from 10 Years). Wallace is a successful podcaster - not unlike Kevin Smith - who has made a living by mocking the unfortunate. Granted, most of the people Wallace ridicules, along with his co-host Teddy (Haley Joel Osment), are the victims of their own hubris, but still it's very apparent that he sees people as a means to an end more than anything else.

Tusk. 2014 A24.

Hoping to score his latest big story, Wallace sets off to Canada in search of Kill Bill Kid, a katana-wielding teenager who inadvertently makes himself an amputee. Of course, Wallace wants nothing more than to poke fun at the kid's folly, even if his girlfriend Ally (Man on a Ledge's Genesis Rodriguez) begs him not to go. However, instead of a nice sit down with Kill Bill Kid, Wallace finds himself in the company of Howard Howe (Michael Parks), a man of adventure who has plenty of stories to tell. But, unbeknownst to Wallace, Howard's real aim is to transform an unsuspecting young man into a living walrus.

Wrapping one's mind around that premise in and of itself is no easy feat, but having now seen Tusk that seems like child's play. The film may have developed off of a quirky idea, but the finished product is far from quirky. This is some dark material. Watching Howard manipulate the helpless Wallace, all the while performing grotesquely amateur surgery, is both fascinating and hard to watch. To that end, Michael Parks is so mesmerizing as the elderly psycho and Smith scripts his dialogue with such panache that you can't help but be drawn in. Unfortunately, once Wallace is drawn in, he becomes a walrus - an act so heartbreaking, yet stomach turning, and propped up by Justin Long's earnest performance. He can flip the switch from scumbag to helpless instantly, and it's only because of his performance that it's hard to nail Tusk down.

Tusk. 2014 A24.

On the one hand, the film has the potential of becoming a cult classic for its bizarre subject matter and unexpected left turns. But because it's not purposefully bad - nor is it unexpectedly good - the film doesn't necessarily deserve a spot in the annals of B-movie, midnight schlock. It's a movie that few will come away pleased with having seen, but that's by design. Tusk is like a bizarre fever dream whose component parts feel so disparate yet unbelievably vivid that you aren't quite sure what the next move is once the credits roll. Do you laugh uncomfortably at this strange journey? Or do you crack a smile at Kevin Smith's gall? There really is no right reaction to this movie, but trust that everyone will react in some way.
While the film itself might be hard to qualify, recommend, or even review, Tusk's script is easily its strongest quality. It's a little clunky at first, but once the eloquent Howard Howe enters the frame, Tusk becomes instantly transfixing. Smith has never shied away from overly wordy monologues, but here he hits a genuine apex and finds a solid muse in Michael Parks. Even though you know Howard is a loony, you can't help but hang on every carefully scripted word.

The rest of the plot is, in a word, unique, but it drags in a few places. Essentially, any time Howard is not on screen the film starts to veer off the road a little too much. There's still some truly strange moments even in the non-walrus related plot, but it's not nearly as compelling. As a whole, though, Tusk is quite the piece of fiction, with some well realized characters. More importantly, it's a story you won't forget.

Comedy, Horror
Release Date
September 19, 2014
Production Designer
Music Score