March 21, 2023
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Life & Culture

Review: Comedy-horror ‘Tusk’ washed away by its own bizarre premise


Directed by Kevin Smith

It’s a pitch-black night in Bifrost, Manitoba. A psychotic, old, retired seaman who goes by the alias Howard Howe (Michael Parks) sits in his house and recounts his tale of abuse as a child, while at the same time calmly reciting 19th-century poetry. All the while, the camera is hovering over bloody surgical tools, a severed leg in a bucket of ice and pictures of human anatomy. Then the scene pans out, and there’s Howe’s victim on an operating table, his body sutured and mutilated.

This is just a moment of the absurd horror-comedy “Tusk,” written and directed by Kevin Smith. The film follows podcaster Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) as he journeys into northern Canada to interview Howe about his life at sea and finds himself held captive by the psychopath, who intends to turn Bryton into a walrus. “Tusk” is an example of what happens when one takes a far-fetched and preposterous plot idea and makes it reality. Smith originally conceived the idea for the film’s plot during a podcast with co-producer Scott Mosier, in which the two pondered the hypothetical storyline of a man in a walrus costume. Soon, a social media movement — #WalrusYes — mustered up the support to see the two-hour tale of insanity come to fruition.

As strange of a premise as it has, “Tusk” falls prey to being derivative and uninspired. Many elements of the film can be compared to the 2010 film “The Human Centipede,” such as the insane, medically experienced antagonist, his attempt to make a horrendous creature out of his victims and the ensuing psychological conflict that pits humanity against animality.

Every step toward Bryton’s transformation into a walrus is riddled with plot holes. The audience members will be scratching their heads wondering how he manages to move and swim, despite his legs being gone and his arms mangled. On that note, one will have to suspend his or her disbelief, as Bryton has miraculously not died of shock or massive blood loss immediately following the surgery.

It is very difficult to classify “Tusk” under either the horror or comedy genres. As with all horror-comedy mixtures, the film runs the risk of being so funny that its horror premise doesn’t matter, or so horrific that its comedy is insignificant. It does neither of these. The scary and the funny just negate each other. It’s hard to feel a sense of impending danger or side-splitting hilarity during a scene when the Quebec ex-inspector Guy Lapointe (Johnny Depp) describes Howe’s horrible crimes to Bryton’s terror-stricken friends through the use of marriage jokes and the phrase “crucified T-Rex.”

While there are a few actual scenes of suspenseful scariness in the film, they’re nothing new or different. Consequently, Long’s deadpan comedy is crass, offensive or in bad taste all throughout the movie, and while it does suitably characterize him as a vulgar Internet commentator, it seldom alleviates the film’s overall dark mood. Aside from him, the only other comedic character is Lapointe, whose nonsensical French personality is awkward and draws out too much screen time.

Great liberties are taken with the passage of time, as long flashbacks are commonly used to elaborate and give more detail to certain areas of the plot, such as Bryton’s personality before he leaves for Canada. However, many of the flashbacks cross the line between theatrical merit and being so long that they take away from the film. In addition, the film’s ambiguous ending, while leaving audiences pondering, is too farcical to be characteristic of a true horror movie and another giant plot hole that’s better left out altogether.

Perhaps one thing that nearly saves the film is the actors’ performances. Parks uses his talents to fully bring dynamism and well-roundedness to the lead role of Howe. Long, when he’s not being a crass comedian, pulls off a better range of human qualities. The characters of Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) and Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) were equally exceptional as well, with Rodriguez and Depp’s performances proving praiseworthy, notably for their well-done monologue scenes. Ultimately, though, the plot renders the acting quality pointless, and the cast can’t rescue the film from it’s own far-fetchedness.

“Tusk” is the movie to see for audiences who wouldn’t mind watching a slightly better version of “The Human Centipede.” Fans of Kevin Smith who appreciate a ridiculous and bizarre take on man-to-beast transformations, and everyone who contributed to the #WalrusYes trend, definitely got the film they wanted.