Freaky Body Horror Keeps Smith’s Text Book Humour Refreshingly Intact. Fabulous Fun.
Unaware fans who fondly recall the 90s output of writer/director Kevin Smith, including the amiably quirky Clerks and Chasing Amy, as well as the more off-the-wall but still sweet Dogma, are in for a bit of a fright with his latest offering, Tusk, though those who watched crazy cult film Red State will be more prepared.
Utterly barmy, it’s loaded with his trademark snark, but gene-spliced with what can only be referred to as Cronenberg-style body horror of the most impressively gross-out kind. The first smart trick Smith plays is with a knowing stab at the implausible over-use of the “based on true events,” intro the marketing machines love to plaster over every conveyor belt fright flick. Those who regularly tune into Smith’s Smodcast podcast may guess what’s in store here, with regards to a prolonged discussion about a hoax Gumtree add featuring a walrus.
Justin Long stars as the odious Wallace, a truly loathsome podcast host cum shock jock who doubles up with surprisingly grown up former child star Haley Joel Osment (A.I, The Sixth Sense) as co-host Teddy. Somehow the pair manage to make a considerable living out of their nasty Not-See Party Show (sounds like heil Hitler stuff when spoken aloud), with a throwaway reference to the kind of advertising rivers of gold long gone in print and I’m not sure were ever attached to self-published platforms.
Wallace leaves his surprisingly forgiving girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) and jets out of the US heading across the border to snow-bound Canada, hoping to locate and humiliate an internet sensation dubbed ‘The Kill Bill Kid’ who accidentally cut his own leg off at the knee while larking about with a samurai sword. When that doesn’t quite pan out, despairing of a wasted trip, Wallace follows an odd hand-written note pinned on a bar wall to the scary old home of an aging former-sailor, in the hope that he has some far-out stories to share.
Tarantino regular Michael Parks is magnificent as the mellifluously voiced Howard Howe, a salty old sea dog fond of reciting Coleridge and Tennyson while claiming to have served alongside Hemmingway. Confined to a wheelchair, he plies Wallace with what he claims is ‘brandy-soaked’ tea, but turns out to be a super-charged sedative.
And this is where it all goes nuts. Waking up with one leg severed at the knee (serves him right for laughing at poor Kill Bill boy) his torture has only just begun, with the clearly insane Howard announcing his plan to augment Wallace’s body in order to transform him into a fondly recalled walrus who once saved Howard’s young life.
Tusk is by far the most full-on Smith has ever been, surpassing Red State, and as such it’s likely to divide audiences straight down the middle between those who go all the way a with the horror house shtick or those who are horrified by its brutality and utterly hate on it.
I’m firmly in the first camp. A late cameo by Johnny Depp, as a booze-soaked and whacked out French Canadian detective who helps Teddy and Ally track Wallace, after his disappearance, is easily the best thing he’s done in years. Both gruesome and raucously funny, it’s a genuine high point for Smith too, which leaves me less psyched for the familiar ground of the impending Clerks III.
Stephen A Russell