Few films are as polarizing as Kevin Smith’s Tusk (2014). The film follows all the same tropes as any other entry in the torture fantasy sub-genre of horror, drawing clear influences from Saw and particularly the body horror of The Human Centipede. At the same time, the ludicrous nature of the story makes it seem as though the film was actually parodying the genre.
The film starts with Justin Long’s character Wallace Bryton going out into the backwoods of Manitoba, Canada in search of a person weird enough to feature on his successful podcast. This leads Bryton to the house of Howard Howe, who after regaling the podcaster with tales of his sea voyages, drugs Bryton and forces him into a series of body modifications to live out his psychopathic fantasies as a human Walrus. The film attempts to make audiences feel empathetic with an unlikable character in Bryton who consistently relies on degrading his guests and crude humor.
At times it felt very confusing. Sometimes it played out like a comedy especially with the moments involving the podcast recordings or any of the scenes involving Guy Lapointe, other times it felt like a romantic drama with the constant reminder of Bryton’s failing relationship with his girlfriend Ally, played by Genesis Rodriguez, who becomes romantically involved with Bryton’s co-host on his podcast Teddy, played by Haley Joel Osmont. The film is certainly strange and while it falls short in impact and is totally confusing, it does manage to succeed as a sort of morbid oddity that’s hard to look away from.
Pacing: 7 out of 10
The film moved along rather smoothly between moments of tension, lighter moments of exposition, and strange moments of supposed reflection. The film did seem rushed as certain scenes ended too quickly, disseminating any tension that might’ve been built up. Although because of the confused tone this lack of tension building could be intentional.
Acting: 9 out of 10
The film featured top-notch performances from Justin Long, making the most out of being relegated to a walrus suit for nearly half the film, Michael Parks who was creepy and engaging as the psychotic Howard Howe, and if not for the credits Johnny Depp as Guy Lapointe is unrecognizable in one of his most transformative roles in recent years. Depp played the officer attempting to locate Howe and he adds some much needed comic relief to the film while not derailing the film away from the main story. Overall everyone put forth a solid performance that helped elevate this film despite its shortcomings.
Content: 6 out of 10
The narrative is a mess. It jumps too much between different genres and certain scenes did nothing but add to the confusion. Ultimately it wasn’t creepy enough, funny enough, or tragic enough. It was just a very middle of the road horror-comedy that didn’t manage to pull off either of these things.
Overall: 6.5 out of 10
Tusk suffers from too many shifts in tone but as a morbid curiosity it does have a certain appeal. Good pacing and solid acting make this film a little more tolerable and it certainly could’ve been a much better film. As it is it’s not comedic nor is it that frightening. Tusk, like much of Kevin Smith’s career, is underwhelming but odd enough to be almost engaging.