I have a long, complicated history with writer/director/Silent Bob actor/professional talker Kevin Smith. Like many young men my age, there was a time when I thought Smith was the man. I loved all of his movies, I owned all his movies (well, not Jersey Girl, but that’s self-explanatory). I listened to his podcast – the SModcast. I generally thought the man could do no wrong. Then I turned 18. And as my maturity blossomed, so did my awareness that Kevin Smith was maybe not the genius I thought him to be. Perhaps this auteur was really more of a vulgarian. In his newest movie, Tusk, Smith looks to take on this negative identifier, and turn it into a positive.
In episode 259 of the SModcast, back in June of 2013 (well after I stopped listening), Smith and his co-host Scott Mosier came up with an idea for a horror movie about a man who is kidnapped and turned into a walrus. It is a ridiculous premise – the kind of stream-of-consciousness bull that belongs solely in the podcast medium and nowhere else – but somehow, due to a rabid fanbase and an amount of clout that does not correlate to the flops he has produced, the movie was made. The first ever adaptation of a podcast episode. The beginning of a new era of filmmaking.
Justin Long stars as Wallace Bryton, a (get this) podcaster who goes around meeting various odd characters so that he can come back and make fun of these people on the air with his co-host, Teddy (a no longer adorable Haley Joel Osment). After one of these meetings falls through in Manitoba, Canada, Wallace takes a flier (literally) on an old ship cook who is looking for a roommate with whom to share his many stories. Wallace arrives at the massive, isolated estate of Howard Howe (Michael Parks), prepared to take what he can from the man before returning to Los Angeles. Howe has other designs. You see Howard’s only real friend was a walrus named Mr. Tusk, who saved his life after a shipwreck. Now Howard wants to make a new Mr. Tusk out of Wallace. And the younger man may not have much say in the matter.
It is a truly absurd plot, and it makes for an absurd movie, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t successful. In fact, this may be one of the few times that a Kevin Smith concept is appropriately realized on-screen.
It is important to realize, when you’re watching Tusk, that everything that sounds serious is ironic. As Parks waxes philosophic about the horrors of humanity and whether or not man is “indeed a walrus at heart,” you must recognize that it is all very tongue-in-cheek on Smith’s part. He wrote the script based on a podcast, after all. He’s not really trying to make profound statements about the human nature – he’s making a movie about a man-walrus. That kind of ironically detached filmmaking can be off-putting at times, but it works here for Smith, mostly due to Parks’s astounding commitment which recalls the menace of Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter and the delusional madness of Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes. The rest of the cast (including a surprise appearance in the movie’s third act that I would never spoil) are similarly invested in the dumb-dumb story, but none of it would work without Parks.
This may be Smith’s most cohesive effort, as he has many of his departments in check here, not just the actors. The score from Christopher Drake is affecting, if a little loud, at one point evoking the Fleetwood Mac song with which the movie shares a title, before using that song itself in a climactic moment in the final third of the film. And the makeup – my goodness. In the last seven days alone I have seen movies that prominently feature a complete disregard for general (and specifically genital) hygiene (Wetlands), deformed serpent babies straight from the mind of David Lynch (Eraserhead), and alien snakes residing in a human uterus (Honeymoon) – none made me do much more than flinch. But the makeup effects in this movie honestly turned my stomach. I have been in a state described as “grossed out” ever since.
Any movie that can get such a visceral reaction from me deserves a hearty commendation in my book. Luckily the film also boasts a sometimes clever (though also weirdly anti-Canadian) script and at least one truly engaging performance. Tusk is a really stupid movie, but I won’t call it bad. It’s definitely not for everyone, but if you like your horror mixed with absurd surrealism then this is probably the place for you. Come on in. I promise there will be not walrus-ings here. I’m more of a seal guy anyway.