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With Tusk, it’s easy to note that Kevin Smith has a sense of humor like a kid roasting ants with a magnifying glass. From the years since he entered the stage with Clerks, he’s morphed his convenience store potty mouth into something more sick and politically sharp. As he tries out his new bags, his brand of black humor has become more veiled, indelicate and urgent. It’s become something far more sinister. Something far grosser. Such being the case, Tusk is sick, sharp, sinister, indelicate, and totally fucking gross.

Since the great Smith vs. Critics Cop Out bout of 2010, Smith has changed irreversibly. The infinitely superior Red State – a film I found massively interesting and one of the man’s finest works – was easy evidence of that. His newfound union with frequent Quentin Tarantino collaborator Michael Parks has seemed to spur within his writing something almost unpalatably dark and twisted but also dementedly funny, embroidered with low-boiling real world commentary. Tusk is the natural progress of taking that menacing, almost humorless comedy and no-holds-barred horror to the edge of full blown psychosis and hanging there until we can hang no more.  

Our entrance to Smith’s beautiful dark twisted fantasy that is Tusk is through Wallace (Justin Long), a loony podcaster who “made 100 grand last year” at the expense of others. Having emerged from the cocoon of a loser nobody, Wallace is a changed man. He’s rich, he’s popular; he’s finally a cool kid. To rightfully jealous girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) he soliloquizes – in sonnets of fart jokes and curse words – about how he likes the “new” Wallace. With the foreboding ratcheted up to cabin in the woods levels, Smith unleashes the red herrings like doves at a funeral.

After Wallace’s trip to the Canadian providence of Manitoba to interview an accidentally self-mutilating YouTube star – deemed “The Kill Bill Kid” – results in a dead end, he becomes serendipitously wrapped up in a jackpot of a story and a walrus of a storyteller in Howard Howe (Parks). At his reclusive Bifrost mansion filled with treasures and trophies of adventures past, Howe waxes prosaically on his exploits at sea before getting to the proverbial gold of his story – one that brings a shipwrecked Howe into the loving bosom of a full grown walrus nicknamed Mr. Tusk. Never has such a respectful, tender relationship existed between humans, Howe contends. After so many years, Howe just wants his friend back and it appears that Wallace arrived just in time to help make it happen.
 
Panicked by Wallace’s untimely disappearance, Ally and Wallace’s podcast co-host Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) seek out the help of drunken discredited detective Guy Lapointe – played by none other than the wacky Johnny Depp under the pseudonym Guy LaPointe– to get to the bottom of what is really going on. Depp, per usual, is the most unbound performer on set and his oddball antics get so extreme as to take us out of the moment and cuts through the tension like a magician farting in the midst of his act.

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From a douchey megalomaniac to a scrambling captive, Long offers up ample evidence of why he was made for horror movies. Restricted in his later portions to just communicating with his eyes, Long is the embodiment of fear and he displays a range of emotions through his hazelnut baby blues. Lording over him, Parks is just as revelatory. His twisted gumption and rhetorical acrobatics prove there’s nothing more frightening than a well-learned mad man on a rant that would be rather lowly ranked on the sanity pole. Though the compassion is mostly meant for hyperbole’s sake, Smith seems to have found his Christopher Waltz in Parks. The two work together like blood and bones.

There to make it all happen, makeup supervisor Robert Kurtzman – not to be confused with The Walking Dead‘s Robert Kirkman –  has sewn together what may be the most disturbing practical effects showcase that I can possibly think of, offering up pure, untarnished nightmare fuel in the form of the the new born Mr. Tusk. Kurtzman’s handicrafts are a patchwork of OMG, a sickening stitch of new age body horror. To coin a phrase, it’s as disturbing as watching a man eat through his own hip.

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As much a deranged freak show as any episode of American Horror Story, Tusk seeks to define that age old question: is man really a walrus? And though Smith’s walrus opus could use sharper editing, a greater emphasis on somberness and even more Michael Parks musings, good god has had made a true haunter.

As effective as any high dosage caffeine pill, Tusk is a wildly original, tonally inconsistent, totally appalling smorgasbord of nightmare fuel that won’t soon stop haunting me. Smith and Kurtzman’s inhuman union presents nothing short of disturbing imagery, doomed to forever rattle around my brain. With Tusk, Smith performs his own Kafkaesque lobotomy. It’s “Metamorphosis” a la The Human Centipede. It’s The Fly meets Hostel. For those weak of stomach and mind, it might be advisable to bring a barf bag.

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2 thoughts on “Out in Theaters: TUSK

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