Last year, I experienced episode 259 of Smodcast. The subject of the episode regarded a man who wished to transform another man into…a walrus. When it was over, I immediately tweeted #walrusyes. Then I tweeted, #walrushellyes. Earlier this afternoon I saw a film which was the direct result of that tweet and thousands of others like it. The ride from inception to viewing has been a thrilling one…and it couldn’t possibly prepare me for TUSK.
The easiest way to describe Kevin Smith’s latest film is by telling you that you’ve never seen anything like it. The concept may remind you of The Human Centipede. Details of a man taking apart another may get you thinking of a torture porn. It is neither of those. If one had to say it was LIKE anything it would be Tales from the Crypt (meaning batshit crazy). Yet that description isn’t entirely accurate. The truth is TUSK is only like TUSK.
Tonally the film shifts from witty comedy, to eerie Hammer horror, to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, to farce. Once the film gets going it never rests on any one tone. Usually this would be awkward and kill a film. It works here similarly to the original Last House on the Left. With such sudden and bizarre humor you’re caught off guard and not quite sure how to handle the brutality when it comes, making it all the more horrific. However the horror itself is so strange that you can’t help laughing. If there is a tonal edge to balance on TUSK ignores it completely and does whatever the fuck it wants.
Many of my feelings after the film were contradictory. Most of the time I would chastise a film for not maintaining a consistent tone. Yet I felt it worked for Smith. The reason is because he goes full on – full Walrus, if you will. Because so much of the film is funny, and so much of it is insane and over the top, you’re able to go along for the ride. Had it started out as deeply serious and become a bunch of jokes, that would have been a problem. Utilizing elements of nonlinear story allowed Smith to jump around and weave his tones together in a unique way.
By far this is the best looking and sounding of Kevin Smith’s films. The cinematography is stunning, and the sound design is subtle and moody. Christopher Drake’s score isn’t something you hear, you feel it. The cast is amizingly strong. Justin Long and Michael Parks are electric together. Two truly incredible performances. Genesis Rodriguez is both tragic and powerful. Haley Joel Osment is the perfect nice guy with an edge.
Kevin Smith has outdone himself in the creation of Howard Howe. He’s like a demented Quint from Jaws. Not only is he intensely menacing and depressing. His long and storied life was fraught with extraordinary pain, sadness, and true horror. Michael Parks is masterful in his portrayal. We came to see the walrus, but were swept up by Parks.
That being said, I was a bit disappointed it wasn’t scarier. Although I have no input on how it could have been made so. The character of Guy Lapointe was fun at first, then I grew tired of him very quickly. His scene with Michael Parks was too cartoonish for my taste. The first half of the film was better than the second. I wish the Walrus costume wasn’t so rubbery. Things like that are small and don’t ruin the movie for me, but are worth noting in my reaction.
Most surprising about the film is its heart. The tagline is “A truly transformative tale.” They mean that, it isn’t just a pun as I assumed. Wallace really goes through something profound. Through the madness of this experience he has been transformed. Whether intended or not, it says a lot about humanity. Wallace’s true tragedy isn’t that he’s turned into a walrus; it’s that he HAD to become something else to finally be human. Some may find that silly. I found it genuinely touching.
All the time we are wining about reboots, remakes, and sequels. We clamor for something original. We want to see something we’ve never seen before. Despite its faults, TUSK is exactly that.