Paul Brian McCoy: When Kevin Smith said he was retiring from making movies after the box-office failure of Red State — a film that I LOVE — I admit, I was disappointed. I don’t think I’d really enjoyed a Kevin Smith film in years before that. Probably not since Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. No, Clerks II didn’t really do anything for me, despite my undying affection for Clerks. So Red State blew me away from start to finish, particularly the performance of Michael Parks, who in my book can do no wrong. I was hoping for a follow-up of some sort, but instead got a retirement announcement. Until now. Tusk is an extremely low-budget (by Hollywood terms — it was made for about 2.8 million) horror/comedy inspired by a real-life ad on Gumtree — a European online classified ad site — where a man was offering free room and board to someone who would wear a life-like Walrus costume for two hours a day. But for those two hours, you had to BE the walrus. On Smith’s podcast, SModcast 259 The Walrus and the Carpenter, he and co-host/producer Scott Mosier began by making fun of the idea and then inspiration hit. Before you knew it there was a Twitter poll being taken, with votes of #WalrusYes or #WalrusNo deciding the fate of the potential movie project. #WalrusYes won by a landslide, and the road to Tusk was underway, with Smith promising fans an inside look at how a movie gets made (or possibly doesn’t) from inspiration to the screen. And let’s be perfectly honest, nobody else was going to make a movie about one man, through the use of drugs and amateur surgery, turning another man into a walrus against his will. Alex Wolfe: And boy, did that man succeed. Tusk begins with a podcaster (because of course he was a podcaster), groan-inducingly-named Wallace and played by Justin Long (because of course he was played by Justin Long), taking a trip up to the Great White North to “interview” (mock) an ersatz Star Wars Kid. However, when he and his hysterical mustache arrive, they find that the boy they’ve come to interview has killed himself mere days before. Question is, with a deadline until his next show, what story can Wallace possibly find in… <shudders> …Canada? Paul: From this point on in the film, you’re either on-board or not. I don’t think there’s any real middle ground, at least until Johnny Depp shows up. Once he appears, with his mind-numbing accent and quirky affectations, the film grinds to a halt. And the short flashback scene where his bumbling homicide detective character encountered Michael Parks’ serial killer a couple of years earlier seemed to go on for hours. Hours of unfunny jokes and awkward dialogue that felt made up on the spot. I seriously almost turned the movie off at that point. And I had been enjoying the hell out of Tusk up until then. Alex: Then you, sir, are a great deal more forgiving of Tusk than I am. I wanted to be on-board for it, I honestly did — like you, I’m a confessed Kevin Smith fan. Having enjoyed all of the View Askew pictures and even a few of his less-beloved works, I wanted to set Tusk’s derpy premise aside and embrace it for what it may have been. The big issue is that this “horror-comedy” is neither scary, nor funny. Listening to the pitch in the podcast (which is played during the credits), I can see how someone might find the idea appealing. Two guys in walrus suits having a duel to the death sounds fucking hilarious, it really does. But when one of those guys is screaming in prolonged agony, only his traumatized eyes visible through the human-flesh fatsuit he’s been sewn into, suddenly I don’t feel like laughing. At all. On top of that, the movie is too damn absurd to really be scary. Most of the surgery scenes aren’t really shown, and what is shown is more nauseating than actually frightening. There’s also the issue that Wallace is the least compelling protagonist of possibly all time. Most horror films are predicated on the concept that we’re supposed to want at least one victim to escape unscathed, but Tusk doesn’t give us a character we can relate to. In fact, it constantly makes a point of showing us that Wallace is a horrendous dick to everyone he encounters and has absolutely no redeeming qualities as a person. About forty minutes in I found myself going “Fuck it, turn him into a walrus then. Have at, bro.” Paul: I don’t disagree with you that Wallace has no redeeming qualities as a person. It’s only once he’s a walrus that he becomes sympathetic in that final, bizarrely absurd scene at the… I don’t know… petting zoo? I didn’t catch any references to it in the featurettes on the disc, but that ending was very similar to the end of one of my childhood favorite freak-out movies: Sssssss (from 1973 about a crazy scientist who turns the original Starbuck into a snake-man — and then an actual snake). Well, not the end exactly, but there is a snake-man in a freak-show who ends up being a past assistant. Starbuck goes full snake. Regardless, that film fueled many, many childhood nightmares. Which may be why I’m more lenient to Tusk. Although, I would also probably buy a ticket just to watch Michael Parks read a shopping list. He’s an absolute genius — particularly when it comes to playing madmen — and he doesn’t disappoint here. Alex: He doesn’t, and I’ll give it that (see? I’m not a total harridan, I can admit it did something right). Parks does an amazing job and, from the first 10-20 minutes of his “storytelling” I started to think I might be able to bear this movie. Then he started showing up more and more infrequently, replaced by Wallace’s out-of-his-league girlfriend, a giggling, marshmallow-like Haley Joel Osment, and, worst of all, Johnny Depp — having seemingly slipped Tim Burton’s snug leash and absolutely no better for having done so. While Depp’s exhausting antics may be entertaining in some third world countries, it was all I could do not to avert (or burn out) my eyes. Fortunately for us, Smith has already been funded to make two more of these endeavors in stupidity, and Depp’s slated to pop up in each of them. Paul: Oh dear. That’s unfortunate. I guess when you’re as rich as Depp, you don’t have to worry about acting anymore and can just show up, act silly, and collect your check. Even when it’s a tiny check like for Tusk (or a larger check for what looks like an even bigger disaster, Mortdecai — seriously, I don’t even know what to fucking think about that thing!). But going back to something you mentioned earlier, about not feeling like laughing at Wallace in his walrus suit, I think that was the correct response. I don’t think they were going for laughter there, so much as a stunned silence or a nervous giggle. It wasn’t quite as disturbing as I think they’d hoped it would be, but it was a very absurdist kind of unease. There’s a strange sort of dread that this film builds, predicated not on the possibility of rescue, but on the eventual reveal of Wallace to his friends and the breaking of his little obnoxious brain. He’d already transformed himself from a decent, but unsuccessful stand-up, to a horrible garbage-person podcaster, giving up some of his humanity along the way. I kind of love the idea that Parks’ Howard Howe actually gave him back some sort of sympathetic element by chopping him up and sewing him into that suit. The ways that Long used his eyes in those final scenes were heartbreaking. Alex: Oooor, they would have been, had he not been in a fucking walrus suit eating a fish. For the tiny ways in which it was compelling, the ending, for me anyway, was shattered by how unrealistic it was. All of the atmosphere that had been built up until then was based on the idea that these things were really happening, could really happen, and had serious effects. I would have accepted a closing scene with Wallace in a mental hospital, toothless and barking mindlessly. But to try to think that every hospital out there opted to leave him in the suit, and just ship him off to the Arkham Walrus Habitat for the Criminally Insane, destroys anything resembling a Willing Suspension of Disbelief I might have once had. You’re correct in that the film does build a sense of dread, even urgency, and as much as I dislike what Tusk ended up being I can confess that it never committed the Cardinal Sin — being boring in between being stupid. When the movie was being bad, it was in-your-face about it. When it was being good, it was… well, usually pretty brief. But at no time did it settle for mediocrity, which I begrudgingly commend. Paul: I can see where the ending wouldn’t sit well with you, or with a lot of viewers, but it’s what really drove home my enjoyment of the film overall. It shifted the film from being a realistic story of madness and forced surgery into something more absurdist — or even just a callback to the end of the Tod Browning classic, Freaks — only where we feel some sympathy for the victim, rather than a cruel justice. But there’s a hint of cruel justice here, too. This isn’t Human Centipede, but something more along the lines of Ianesco’s Rhinoceros. The absurdism exposes the theme of the piece. Where Rhinoceros was about fascism and conformity, Tusk is about dehumanization and the sources of empathy. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Tusk holds up as well as Ianesco’s play — that would really be absurd — but it demonstrates a willingness to not be reined in by expectation and realism that I really appreciated. I can’t say I’m expecting the same from Yoga Hosers or Moose Jaws. Alex: The very name Moose Jaws, not to mention its tagline (“Jaws with a moose.”) sends me into an irrational drooling rage. Yoga Hosers I have neither hopes for or thoughts about. While Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Depp were among the more enjoyable parts of Tusk (not saying much), I don’t really have any faith in them to hold up an entire movie until it’s proven to me. Especially in a movie about fucking yoga. Anyway, I’ll admit that I really don’t have anything to compare Tusk to, which may be why I’m more critical about its execution. I never even saw Human Centipede (which I chalk up to not being an immense fan of seeing people shit in other peoples’ mouths), nor have I seen any of these fabled endeavors in transforming humans into snakes and rhinos. The issue, I think, with Tusk is that any message or intellect it may have had was probably accidental. Listening to Smith and Mosier chat about the project made it sound like the film was supposed to be a pure comedy, played for laughs all the way through. While there may have been some incidental eeriness that resulted, I believe it’s overly generous to compare Tusk with movies and plays that actually had meaning and purpose behind their existence. Tusk was about a mustached guy named Wallace being turned into a walrus. Paul: I’ve never been one to depend on the intentions of the artist to provide meaning or value in a piece. In fact, if it really is just a failed attempt at humor, it doesn’t change the impact it has intellectually or philosophically in the end. Artists just create; they rarely know what they’re creating until it’s let loose in the world and audiences begin to engage and interact with the work. I think Tusk is a fantastic example of that. Or would be if Johnny Depp hadn’t been in it. Alex: Apples and grapes, then — I’ve always been one to judge something based on what it was meant to be as much as what it ended up being, and have made no effort to hide that. Still, even if I pretend to be nice and admit not only that Tusk had a few powerful moments, but also that those moments retain their validity despite being accidental in nature, I still fucking hate this movie. Its few brief glimmers of adequacy or purpose are smothered in the fetid quagmire of unfunny jokes, awkward horror, constant immersion breaks, and about forty straight minutes of Johnny Depp pretending to be funny. Paul: Fair enough! One of the things that I like about doing reviews like this is that we’re not trying to convince each other of anything; instead we’re just trying to make the other understand where we’re coming from. I totally understand not enjoying this movie at all. But it really hit a few thematic points that resonated with me in a way that I would never have expected — in sort of the same way Red State won me over. Michael Parks is a goddamn American Treasure and somebody needs to make a film that puts him in the public eye in a way that he hasn’t been exposed before. Tusk isn’t going to be that film, but it has to happen eventually. And Justin Long, while playing a complete douche, gives it his all. The scenes where he wakes up to find his leg gone, and where he is first revealed in full walrus regalia were both disturbing as hell. Cut the Johnny Depp stuff out of this film — because he really served no purpose other than providing a hint of backstory that wasn’t really even necessary — and this would be one of my favorite body horror films in years. Alex: I totally get having something resonate with you. There have been plenty of times when I’ve struggled to defend a film based only on the way it pandered to my exact tastes, and I can very much sympathize with even Tusk having that type of effect. But it didn’t have that effect on me. This movie needed to decide whether it was comedy or horror, and if it just had to be both, then it needed to be far more competent in pulling that combination off. If it wanted to be more meaningful, it had to be less stupid. And for fuck’s sake, it needed about 300% less Johnny Depp. That, we agree on completely. Since Kevin Smith refuses to take any responsibility for this movie’s failures, I don’t feel the least bit bad about beating this dead horse and letting the world know that Tusk was, honestly, not worth watching. Alex’s Final Score: 1/5 Paul’s Final Score: 4/5 Alex: 4/5?! You’re a maniac. Ah well. See larger image Tusk [Blu-ray + Digital HD] New From: $17.97 USD In Stock Tusk (2014)Alex's RatingPaul's Rating2.5Overall ScoreReader Rating: (1 Vote)Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Pingback: Top Ten Favorite 2014 Horror Movies - Psycho Drive-In() Punk Faye Um. No. Nope nope nope. I watched both Human Centipede movies. I have paid my dues.