Kevin Smith’s newest movie this year is definitely a different type of film experience. As a huge fan of horror films, I went into “Tusk” hoping the film ran in the same vein as his 2011 horror-thriller “Red State.” Sitting down in the darkened movie theater, my friend informed me that “Tusk” was going to be like “The Human Centipede,” but less gross. Having never seen “The Human Centipede” I didn’t really know what to expect.
The film stars Justin Long as offensive and insulting podcaster Wallace Bryton. With his fellow podcaster, Teddy Craft (played by Haley Joel Osment), Wallace finds embarrassing videos online to ridicule. As a part of his job, Wallace travels to Canada to interview a boy from a viral video, only to find the boy had committed suicide a day before Wallace’s arrival. Angry about the boy’s death, Wallace struggles to find a new person to interview in the hopes of bringing back some type of story for his podcast.
It is at this point that Wallace reads a sign in a bar bathroom boasting of a man who claims to have lived an interesting life. Wallace contacts the man and is invited to stay the night in the mysterious man’s home. Upon his arrival in Howard Howe’s (played by Michael Parks) home, Wallace learns that the man was once shipwrecked in the Arctic Ocean, but was saved by a walrus, who Howe named Mr. Tusk. At this point, Wallace loses consciousness from the drugged tea Howe had given him.
This is where Kevin Smith really goes for it. It is revealed that Howard Howe plans to surgically turn Wallace into a human walrus, using human skins from various other victims to construct the walrus body. Howe is depicted as a maniacal victim of abuse who only hopes to recreate his only true friend, Mr. Tusk. Wallace is of course opposed, but is helpless to fight back since he loses his arms, legs and tongue before fulfilling his transformation into human walrus.
“Tusk” has very few moments where it is actually scary. While marketed as a horror film, I spent much of the film laughing out loud at the dialogue and actions of the various characters in the film.
Before his transformation into full walrus, Wallace was able to briefly contact his girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) and Teddy to inform them of his plight. They immediately arrive in Canada and inform the authorities, who promptly put them in contact with ex-cop Guy LaPointe (Johnny Depp). LaPointe is able to track down Wallace’s whereabouts at Howe’s home, but the group is too late to save Wallace from his fate as a human walrus.
While not a great movie per se, “Tusk” accomplishes exactly what Smith wanted it to: Smith created a film of such absurd proportions that it was just campily good. It should be noted that Smith created the idea for “Tusk” after discussing on his own podcast, SModcast, an article featured on the website Gumtree, where the advertiser offered free room and board if the lodger agreed to wear a walrus costume.
The conversation posited a rough outline of the plot of “Tusk” before Smith ended the podcast by asking his Twitter followers to tweet #WalrusYes if they wanted the movie to be made and #WalrusNo if they did not. After an overwhelmingly positive response, Smith agreed to write the film and contacted the advertiser from Gumtree to become an associate producer (the walrus ad on Gumtree was actually a fake).
Even though “Tusk[‘s]” storyline is not great, Smith is still a strong director, able to convey much of the horror aspects through strong moments of cinematography. One of the most notable scenes has to be the when Howe is actually turning Wallace into a human walrus. The cinematography within those scenes, specifically the camera pans over bloody surgical instruments and demented charts of human and walrus anatomy, are especially eerie when paired with the music and Howe’s story of his abusive life in a Canadian orphanage. Alongside the strong cinematography, Christopher Drake’s film score worked hard to balance the lighter moments with LaPointe, Ally and Teddy with the dark scenes where Wallace is tortured by Howe.
Unfortunately, that scene and the score throughout the film was not enough for me to really bite the horror marketing. This movie is full pulp. The ending itself is just too ridiculous and unbelievable that you honestly have to watch it yourself to fully understand it.
Michael Parks works hard to portray Howe just on the side of cartoon absurdity, just barely succeeding. Justin Long’s Wallace is so horrible as a character that I was actually happy to see him turned into a human walrus. And Johnny Depp as LaPointe is exactly how Johnny Depp would render that character, completely imbecilic with a dash of reason.
“Tusk” was a filmic experience I never knew I needed in my life, but I truly have no regrets after watching this film. In all honestly, I loved how horrible it was; “Tusk” was so bad it was good. The fact that Smith promised this to be the beginning of his new True North trilogy only makes me excited about the future projects, titled “Yoga-Hosers” and “Moose Jaws.” Those titles just tell you everything, don’t they?