The genius known as Kevin Smith has created a wonderful, wickedly weird film called Tusk. While it is highly recommended that audiences should flock to see the quirky movie, not everyone will get it. Those that cannot connect with the genius and “out of the box” delivery by Smith’s cast and crew will most likely hate it or fail to see all the things that this film does.
The film centers around popular podcaster Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) whose success has gone to his head. The show, titled “Not-See,” is about Bryton getting content to put on for his co-presenter and friend, Teddy Craft (Haley Joel Osment) who has a “phobia” about travelling, hence the quirky title. Not-See versus Nazi, as both men are quick to explain, puts content on the web that could be described as tasteless but still amusing, at least to Teddy and Wallace.
A bit of footage uploaded by a Canadian teen known as the “Kill Bill Kid” shows the young man practicing with a Samurai sword until he cuts his own leg off. Both the presenters find this hysterically funny and Wallace arranges an interview with the unlucky lad. When he shows up to the lad’s residence, he finds out that the “Kid” has committed suicide.
Sitting in a bar later, he calls Teddy and tells his friend that he will find something else to put in place of the late teen’s spot on the podcast. Wallace goes to the bar’s restroom and while relieving himself at one of the urinals, spots a letter advertising for a lodger.
The letter, written and posted by “Howard Howe” (Michael Parks) explains that the lodger would be given free room and board in exchange for listening to Howe’s stories about his interesting life of travel. Wallace contacts the man and, after getting directions, goes to his home.
Once there, the podcast presenter finds that he has voluntarily entered a nightmare that he may never escape. Wallace’s genial but strange host drugs him and keeps him prisoner. The film then goes into Bryton’s struggle to survive as his friends rush to save him. A former policeman (Johnny Depp) turns up looking for Howe and he joins Teddy and Wallace’s girlfriend, Ally (Genesis Rodriguez), in their search for Wallace.
This film was born from a podcast aired by writer/director Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier. According to Smith, a real advertisement appeared on English website Gumtree.com, a site that is a United Kingdom version of craigslist. It was this weird, “true” occurrence which resulted in the wickedly wonderful film, Tusk. The podcast explains that the writer of the ad revealed that he had been alone on an island for three years where his only company was a walrus that the potential landlord named Gregory.
The Gumtree ad asked for someone to live with the writer and the only cost to the applicant would be to wear a “walrus suit” for two hours a day and catch fish in his/her mouth when required. Hopefuls had to audition and after a very short time, the position was filled. After the podcast, it was discovered that the advertisement was in fact a prank posted by a poet from Brighton who hoped to meet Smith.
This, then, explains the “Based on True Events” message at the beginning of the film. The movie was born from an extremely funny, freewheeling podcast that could have been turned into a very odd short film. Instead of choosing that route, Smith opted to make a feature-length horror movie called Tusk. Elongating the thing into a proper film instead of an “art house”-length festival filler did not hurt the project.
The film itself can be seen as an overlong punchline to a bad, yet still funny, joke. A sort of visual gag on par with a twisted “Rudolph the Red knows rain, dear,” type of pay-off. It could also be seen as a cautionary tale – an extremely full one, from not taking drinks from strangers to “what goes around comes around,” there are messages buried in this blackly comic horror film that is not afraid to rely on gruesome slapstick and potentially tasteless visuals to make its point.
Another message could be about the world and its fascination with the Internet and podcasts as well as YouTube-type celebrities who are more concerned with their views, advertising payouts and fans than with treating their fellow man well. In a nutshell, this film will cause the audience to be puzzled, confused, dismayed and shocked into laughing at things which normally would not elicit that much guilty amusement.
Parks is splendidly weird and crazy as serial killer Howe. It was refreshing to hear the actor not portray another snarling, mumbling Texan and instead focus on a literate individual who is nuttier than a fruitcake. Long is spot-on as the unlikable, and pretty much detestable, podcast co-host, who has Karma slap him in the face repeatedly.
Osment proves that despite the fact he is no longer that cute kid who could see dead people, he can still blast other performers right off the screen just by listening to a story being told by Depp’s character. Rodriguez is touching as the young woman who is connected to both hosts romantically – there is a great reference to a love triangle when Teddy and Ally start searching for Wallace.
Depp is hilarious as the odd former policeman who has been tracking Howe for a long time. The actor does his version of an Inspector Clouseau-type character to brilliant effect. The performer has been criticized quite a lot of late and his time out to play a deft, well-delivered comic character was appreciated.
Smith has also managed to pay a hysterical sort of homage to the 2009 grotesque horror film, The Human Centipede (First Sequence), as well as a nod and wink to the 1999 movie, The Blair Witch Project. The film itself contains many film and literary references as well as a good amount of inside jokes.
The wonderful and wickedly weird Smith film, Tusk, will go down well with his fans and those with a love of horror cinema, a literary bent or a well-rounded appreciation of pop culture. Smith’s name will guarantee that a certain amount of seats are filled right off the bat. Sadly, the trailer for the film may disenchant more viewers and this combined with the Monty Python-ish type humor may well cause the movie to take a while to find its audience. It is a must-see, however, for Smith fans and those who appreciate more outlandish humor/black comedy. Tusk opens on September 19 and be warned – this film will be quite unlike anything seen before.
By Michael Smith
AMC Town Square Theater 18