Tusk Review: A Descent Into Madness

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Dear god…

Tusk may very well be the most surreal and absurd movie I see this year, perhaps even of the past few years. It’s been a struggle to wrap my head around exactly what I saw, and in a way I have to give Kevin Smith credit for that. He has managed to create a film that juggles comedy with genuine horror in a jarring, but for the most part, effective way. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that if pretty much any other modern director had attempted Tusk, they would’ve failed horribly.

Without spoiling too much, the film centers around a podcaster by the name of Wallace Bryton.  For the sake of his show, Wallace heads to the Great White North (that’s Canada, folks) and ends up listening to an old man regale him with stories of his incredible past, one of which involves a beloved walrus.

I know, Justin Long… I know.

The movie is absurd, but in a mostly good way. The film does a fantastic job of slowly pulling you into the story by spending a good 20 minutes or so building up tension and establishing the character of Wallace Bryton. He’s not a great person, that much is certain, but when things spiral into a grotesque carnival of horror, you can’t help but feel bad for him. Speaking of grotesque carnivals of horror, a good way to approach this film is with an entirely open mind. The pure absurdity of what’s happening on screen takes some getting used to, but going in with the mindset of “this could actually happen” will do you enormous favors in terms of enjoyment. Tusk is, at times, laughable. Its concept from the beginning acknowledges and embraces that. It has a B-movie feel to it, but unlike nearly every B-movie, there’s an underlying sense of dread and horror that comes to the surface when you pause to really take in a scene. I sincerely applaud Kevin Smith in his accomplishment of this.

However, the movie still remains fairly laughable. The film cuts from scenes of pure tension to ones of comedic relief and vice versa in a way that is unpleasantly jarring. You watch Haley Joel Osment play the straight man with some really good dialogue and jokes for a little while and then it’s back to the absurdity with the walrus. It breaks the tension in two and then proceeds to cobble it back together for a few minutes before throwing it against the wall again. All of this lends itself to the surrealism of the film, but I’m not quite sure if it’s in a good way. The cameo about two-thirds of the way through the film does this as well, but from that point on, Tusk never regains its footing. It introduces a ridiculous (but well-acted) character/subplot and slips off the tightrope between comedy and horror. I do believe this kind of play with traditional comedy and absurd horror was Kevin Smith’s intention for this movie. It’s pretty difficult to watch some of the scenes (I’m looking at you, Michael Parks with a perplexing dialect) and not feel like Smith had to know what he was doing. He had to have been aware of how these scenes played out, how some of the dialogue felt off or forced, how the movie’s concept begins to work against itself… I will give him the benefit of the doubt and believe the film turned out (roughly) the way he wanted it to. That being said, I’m not quite convinced the way it turned out is very good. Tusk has its share of problems regarding the writing and utter shattering of tone throughout. It’s a film that strives to be, at the very least, memorable, but what it sacrifices to make that happen might not justify the result.

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