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Film Review: Tusk (2014)

“It was one of Kevin Smith’s own podcasts that generated the idea for this film, and perhaps it should have remained as just that – an idea.”

After his interview assignment commits suicide, podcaster Wallace Bryton finds himself stuck in Canada until he can get the next flight out. While in the men’s room of a pub, he spies a flyer that captures his attention: Howard Howe lives all alone, and is filled with tales of adventure from the high seas, just wanting an ear for the listening – and not only that, he is offering free room and board too. Wallace jumps at the chance to interview the old man, if just as a means to escape the boredom, but once he meets Howard, he begins a journey that nosedives from the truly strange and bizarre into madness and despair. Fearing for his life, Wallace manages to get a call out to his girlfriend Ally, who teaming up with Wallace’s podcasting partner Teddy Craft, and a strange former inspector named Guy Lapointe, attempts to find him before it is too late. Once they find Wallace though, they discover that he has passed the point of no return, and that his only escape from the living nightmare he finds himself in is death.

While the ‘man turned Walrus monster’ premise of this second venture into horror from writer/director Kevin Smith (Mallrats series, Clerks series, Chasing Amy, Red State) is certainly an interesting and potentially horrific one – the final product is something that unfortunately falls short of ever really fulfilling it’s promise.

The biggest issue at play here is the screenplay itself. While there is no doubting that Smith is a master at creating memorable characters and writing snappy, relevant dialogue – and as you might expect, there’s plenty of that to go around here – the story is often muddled and confusing, and lacking any real sense of dread or fear, while the increasingly absurd plot twists do little more than make the viewer drift further and further away from wanting to go along with what is, let’s face it, a pretty absurd idea to start with. Humour that often fails to hit the mark, weak character motivation, and a certain lack of closure only makes things worse, while not even cameos from Johnny Depp (all but unrecognisable, buried under prosthetics) as Quebec detective Guy Lapointe and a rough looking Haley Joel Osment can save what is basically a sinking ship.

There are some saving graces to be had however. Michael Park gives a standout performance as the strange Howard Howe, and it genuinely appears as though he is having a blast as he chews up so much scenery. He plays it in such as way that is at once both creepy and at times hilarious, and when paired with Justin Long, the many scenes that they share are definitely the highlight of the film. Effects are handled pretty well for the most part too, and with the exception of a very fake looking CGI gross-out scene at the beginning of the film, they are practical – a refreshing change considering how most titles like this tend to slap on the CGI. Actually seeing Long perform with the makeup is a sight to behold, and his screams of anguish will make you wince in pain; Indeed, Tusk is often not for the faint of heart, and for that Smith certainly deserves some recognition.

It was one of Kevin Smith’s own podcasts that generated the idea for this film, and perhaps it should have remained as just that – an idea, a fragment of the imagination, fuel for bad dreams and night terrors. Instead what we have ended up with is a film that is mired by a confused screenplay, that is riddled with poorly crafted story-telling and that, in the end, is average at best.

 

BOB PASTORELLA

Director: Kevin Smith.
Starring: Justin long, Michael Parks
Certificate: 15
Release date (UK): On DVD and Blu-ray 8 June 2015

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