Two perspectives on Tusk

by Gareth von Kallenbach

To legions of his many fans, writer, director, producer, and podcaster Kevin Smith is a man fanboys find easy to root for. His films have become pop-culture gold to comic book, science fiction, and general geekdom fans the world over. Smith has built a career on independent films with characters that are as real as they are raw and raunchy. The crude nature of his jokes often put him in a “love them or hate them” category for many critics as it is definitely not a style that is for the masses. That being said, the films are witty, honest, and most times relatable, no matter how bad the situations and the characters become. Recently, Smith took a detour to the darker side with his film “Red State” that looked at a group of kids who became the victims of a fanatical cult leader and his followers.

While Smith was reportedly working to get funding for “Clerks 3”, an idea was presented to him during his Smodcast about a guy in rural Canada who is offering free room and board to anybody who would live with him on the condition that they wear a walrus costume from time to time. Buoyed by his followers on Twitter, Smith decided to make a horror film based on the situation even after learning that the incident in question was the result of a prank by a comedian.

In his new film Tusk, we are introduced to a successful podcaster named Wallace (Justin Long), who along with his costar Teddy (Haley Joel Osment), run a show called the Not See Party, whose name leads to several double takes and comical and uncomfortable situations down the line. Wallace’s girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) wishes to accompany Wallace to his trip up to Canada in order to interview someone for a show.

Since Teddy is not a flyer, Wallace travels to locations to interview people and then in turn tells the stories to Teddy so the two can comment about them on air. Ally longs for the Wallace of old who was a struggling comedian as she believes that the successful Wallace is not that fun to be around as he no longer makes her a priority in life. Wallace admits as much when he discloses a series of infidelities to Teddy and dismisses them as nothing more than clearing of the head while traveling or before doing a live show for an audience.

Upon arriving in Manitoba, Wallace learns that his intended interview has befallen tragedy and faced without a topic for his next show, Wallace is intrigued by a flyer from a man offering room and board as well as plenty of stories.

Wallace makes contact with the individual and travels two hours into rural Manitoba at night to meet the man at his expansive estate. Upon meeting Howard Howe (Michael Parks), Wallace is captivated by the elderly wheelchair-bound gentleman and his tales of life at sea including meeting Ernest Hemingway during the war. As Wallace sat spellbound by the tales Howard is telling him, he soon falls unconscious as a result of being drugged by his host. Things take a very dark turn the following morning when Howard learns that he has lost a leg of which Howard proclaims was the tragic result of a spider bite. Things become a living nightmare as Wallace quickly learns just how devious and diabolical Michael’s plans are for him and trapped in a remote area his humanity and faith are slowly stripped away by the situation he finds himself in.

Teddy and Ally travel to Manitoba due to a frantic call Wallace makes and not finding much assistance from the local authorities, turn to quirky and eccentric former homicide detective Guy LaPointe (Johnny Depp), who fears that Wallace has become the victim of an elusive killer whom LaPointe has been trying to find for years.

What follows is a dark, disturbing, and utterly captivating thriller in a race against time with the very essence and humanity of Wallace hanging in the balance.

While Smith inserts his trademark humor into the film, this is very much a psychological thriller and not a comedy. Depp does a fantastic job and is almost unrecognizable in his role as a homicide detective who is scheduled to appear in a subsequent film currently shooting. While it seemed a bit of a stretch that Ally would want be involved with Wallace, there was nonetheless a good bit of chemistry between them even though the majority of their scenes are shown via flashback.

Long and Parks propel the story as it is pretty much about the dramatic struggle between the two of them. Parks is captivating and creepy while the brash Wallace gets a lesson in humanity and what truly matters in life. While some will no doubt find the subject matter highly disturbing and may be quick to dismiss the film, this is one of the more clever and enjoyable thrillers in recent years and proves that Smith is a filmmaker capable of doing things other than his trademark comedies and should be encouraged to continue to broaden his horizons.

As it stands the film should delight fans of Smith but also allows him to expand his audience into new areas as this truly is one of the more memorable and entertaining films of the year.

4 stars out of 5

by Joseph Saulnier

Tusk. Tusk is a… well… interesting film. It is the first film that has left me literally speechless in a long while. It’s also the first film in a long while that kept me glued to the screen and listening to every single word, including getting the inflection down to the very detail.

Tusk follows Wallace (Justin Long), a successful podcaster who heads to Canada to interview a kid from a viral video. The interview actually falls through, and Wallace finds himself in a bar room bathroom when an advert catches his eye. It was the offer of a room for rent from an old man with claims of wonderous tales of his travels and adventures. Wallace responds to the ad and meets Howard Howe (Michael Parks), who we all soon discover has an unhealthy love of the walrus. Soon Wallace goes missing, and his girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) along with his best friend Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) are determined to find him with the help of an ex-cop Guy Lapointe (Johnny Depp).

That’s about as much as I can give you without revealing too much, or shaking your faith in the movie. Michael Parks is his usual fantastic self as the demented antagonist. Genesis Rodriguez delivers a convincing performance as a woman struggling with the issue of love for a man who may not appreciate her as he should. It was also nice to see Haley Joel Osment back on the screen, and his screen time with Rodriguez and Guy Lapointe has great presence. Smith’s daughter, Harley Quinn, and Depp’s daughter, Lily Rose, also have great roles as the clerks of the convenience store in the film. But the star of the day, and focus of the film, is Justin Long for taking this role and doing it like no other could. It is not your normal role, or one that may be heavily sought after, but he commanded that performance.

The score of the film was good, but nothing truly remarkable. Though I do see people searching out the ringtone that we hear a few times throughout the film. I know I did. The cinematography was the star of the film. Leave it to Kevin Smith to a take genre that is the complete opposite of that which he is known for, and just turn it on its ear. The framing is perfect in every scene; the setting, the lighting, the subtle details that make you laugh or appreciate the scene so much more (pay close attention to the back wall in the scenes at the convenience store Eh-2-Zed). This along with the editing really bring the film together to reveal the movie that will leave you guessing to the very end. Even despite Smith detailing it out in his podcast entitled “Smodcast”.

This film definitely gives you an interesting look into the human psyche. To say the film is disturbing is close to being an understatement, but it is disturbing in a very powerful way that leaves you liking the film, even though you probably really shouldn’t. This will definitely be added my collection once it hits the shelves.

It’s important to note that we may expect more films like this as Kevin Smith has designated it film one of his True North Trilogy. The follow up to Tusk will be Yoga Hosers, which include the Lapointe character, his daughter, and Smith’s daughter.

5 out of 5