Writer: Kevin Smith
Director: Kevin Smith
Cast: Michael Parks, Justin Long, Haley Joel Osment, Genesis Rodriguez, Johnny Depp
Tusk is a film by Kevin Smith. For many, this statement will either peak your interest or turn your stomach. Smith is known for the creation of Jay and Silent Bob, the cult hit Clerks (1994), and further successful comedies all of a similar formula. I am a big fan of Clerks, and so the news of Smith’s new ‘controversial’ film when Tusk was on the verge of release intrigued me.
Tusk’s main character, Wallace (Long) is an obnoxious, cheating podcaster. It’s an interesting choice for the character, as Smith positions him as a storyteller and commentator, pushing the voyeuristic scrutiny of new media, which in this new generation is accessible to everyone. Wallace records his podcast with best friend, Teddy (Osment) and their efforts have so far earned them a decent level of notoriety and fans. The title of the podcasts calls them the ‘Not See Party’, which sounds like ‘Nazi Party’ when you say it aloud. This is your introduction to the lower, unimaginative levels of comedy scattered throughout the script.
For the podcast to be a success, Wallace feels it is vital they interview outrageous people, including YouTube and internet phenomena who have gone viral overnight for varying stupid reasons. After finding that his planned interview with a YouTube celebrity is cancelled due to his suicide, Wallace conveniently finds a new subject after responding to an eloquent advert posted on the toilet wall of a bar. Wallace makes his way to the advertiser’s home in Canada hoping for an interesting story to rip to pieces on his podcast, but instead finds himself the centre of a story no one would possibly believe.
Writing out the plot of the film is a bit painful. It’s not an easy sell without embellishing most of the details. Smith has vacuumed up a ton of clichés and made a horror movie – there’s no denying that, and there are so many problems with the final result. However, I do commend Smith’s commitment to his creation and you can feel the love for this project throughout.
Due to the crux of the plot one Wallace makes it to Howard Howe’s (Parks) home in search of the story, the film invites comparison to Tom Six’s The Human Centipede (2009). For me, Tusk is nothing like Six’s attempt at a horror film, and the body-horror and monster creation concepts are the only real similarities. Six is obsessed with ‘pushing limits’ and ‘breaking boundaries’, like a spoiled teenager trying to get his parent’s attention, and watching his films is a boring experience, leaving the audience feeling void. Smith, on the other hand, is clearly having a blast with this movie. He leads the audience into the grotesque but he wants the audience to enjoy the ride. The attempts at humour are there, though they often fall short, but the overall experience is a worthwhile one.
Tusk is a movie to watch with your friends. You can laugh at the stupid and funny sections, talk over it if you get bored, and you can share the moment Smith reveals his monster together. You won’t look back and think: Wow! What a great movie.
But you will enjoy watching it, and some of those images are going to stick with you for a while.
Smith’s creature is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. On the surface, it’s nothing special, but Smith builds up to it in such a way, and Long defines it so well, that it really did make my skin crawl. I’m not going to go into any detail, because I really think the less you know, the more you will enjoy the moment.
Long’s defining of the central character and monster is commendable because there are very few characters in the film. Long and Parks helm most of the story, with Rodriguez and Osment supporting. Sadly, none of the characters are particularly impressive and none are developed adequately. Rodriguez is a particular shame because she is one of the few female faces in the film, and her character isn’t even close to a genuine representation of a woman. Weirdly, Johnny Depp’s daughter, Lily-Rose Melody Depp stars alongside Harley Quinn Smith as two Canadian store cashiers, and these were my two favourite characters. According to IMDB.com, Smith is now working on a film focussing on these two characters, so he clearly saw the same potential as me – and perhaps felt most confident back in the Clerks domain.
Smith does write Wallace’s character as an irritating, chauvanist and it’s difficult to get behind it for a lot of the film. Long stays true to this, and for the character arc, I can understand the decision, but you don’t really have an invested interested in anything or anyone because of it.
Parks, who plays opposite Long for the majority of the film, uses a different, more successful tactic. His performance is refined and controlled, and he holds back on just letting it all out and playing a complete lunatic. His character is all the more chilling for it.
And then there’s Johnny Depp.
Like so many of his recent performances, Tusk requires him to put on a ‘disguise’ and a stupid accent. The really sad thing is it comes across on screen that Depp thinks he is doing a really great job and he looks like the guy who thinks he is telling you the most hilarious joke you will ever hear. You don’t know whether to be angry at him for it, or just pity him.
There is an excruciatingly drawn-out scene between Depp and Parks which is an attempt at humour which falls so flat that I cannot see a single reason why Smith kept such an extended scene in the film, other than the fact that Depp was part of it. I can’t lie, Depp is one of the worst things about the film and it would have been a lot better without him. Although, the script also has a lot to answer for as the comedy moments are rarely as good as they should be.
As the credits rolled on the film, I felt as if Tusk was exactly the kind of movie Smith wanted it to be. It’s a bizarre romp which dances through the horror genre to its own tune. It is a parody, but it still wants you to feel disgusted by it, and I would guess it will accumulate a cult following pretty quickly as it will become a film in the cannon that you ‘must see’, even if it’s not the best example.
I really admire everything Smith got right with Tusk, and I would recommend it to those who like this kind of horror-comedy. However, there’s no way I can give it more than 2 out of 5 because it already loses an entire rank for Johnny Depp’s character and performance. It could have been so much better, and there’s a part of me that wishes Smith could have connected more with his earlier work when writing and directing Tusk – but, the monster and the overall story between Long and Parks are definitely a success.