Regarding the production of Kevin Smith’s new film Tusk, the circumstances under which it was made and came into existence have become almost as well known as the film itself. For those who are unaware, writer/director Smith was on his weekly SModcast program last summer when he was famously made aware of a rather bizarre story. During the episode, Smith and his longtime friend/producer Scott Mosier discussed an article featuring an ad where a homeowner was offering a living situation free of charge, but only if the lodger agrees to dress as a walrus for a short amount of time each day. The discussion went on from there, resulting in almost an hour of the episode being spent on reconstructing and telling a hypothetical story based on the ad. After sharing this story on the podcast, Smith asked his listeners and followers if a film based on this scenario sounded like it was worth making and to tweet their opinions on the matter. The rest, as they say, is history.
To put it quite simply, this film is unlike anything I – or anyone else – has ever seen before. Thine eyes hath gazed into the abyss and what I have seen I shall never be able to unsee. Surely the premise of a man being made into a human walrus sounds rather grim and depressing on paper, but stripped of the po-faced and self serious tone of Kevin Smith’s previous horror effort Red State, and infused with a sense of humor that should feel familiar to longtime fans of Smith, Tusk succeeds overall as a deliciously twisted and wickedly enjoyable horror-comedy hybrid.
Aside from the sheer absurdity of the premise and inherent shock factor, the biggest strengths of Tusk lay within its casting; in particular, leads Michael Parks and Justin Long. Parks has established a well-earned following among cult film fans by playing mentally unstable kooks and this role is another notch on his belt, mixing subtle terror and joyously demented histrionics. Kevin Smith’s screenplay also does a well enough job at giving him a sufficient motivation and backstory as to almost rationalize his offbeat behaviors. Long also does a commendable job here, playing the straight-faced everyman trapped in an unspeakably horrible situation, and making for a solid human anchor to Parks’ scenery-chewing ham.
Another one of Tusk‘s most appealing aspects is its discretion, and the final decisions regarding what to show and what not to show. The torture subgenre of horror films has had something of a (rather unwelcome, in my humble opinion) revival in the past decade since the first Saw film, but Tusk thankfully doesn’t qualify as such. Certain grisly details such as legs and tongues being removed are wisely left to the imagination, which adds more intensity to the final reveal of the walrus suit. Smith and his friends might be having a laugh at this whole situation, but he at least has the decency not to play up the body mutilation angle for laughs *cough*Pain & Gain*cough*. Even the smallest amount of restraint in a film with a concept as balls-out insane as this one can go a long way, and not once during this film was I reminded of something as soulless or lowly as the likes of Hostel or some such trash.
Only in the third act does Tusk begin to falter, both narratively and tonally. No matter how divisive the overall film is, most people on either side of the fence seem to agree that the biggest folly in the film occurs near the final 1/3, with the introduction of an inspector character who is played 110% for laughs, and practically feels like a walk-on from another film entirely, not too far removed from The Pink Panther’s own Inspector Cluzout. Cutting back and fourth between the antics of this comical doofus and then to a legless, tongue-less man trapped inside of a walrus suit made of human skin can’t help but feel incredibly jarring. However, these aspects are luckily brought in far too late in the film to truly uproot the impact of everything that surrounds it.