Another brick in the walrus.
In Tusk, Justin Long plays a jerk vodcaster who is kidnapped by a solitary ex-sailor lunatic and transformed via surgery into a walrus. There’s bitter justice in the fact that Long, whose character makes a living invading the private lives of freaks on the internet, should find himself the biggest freak of all. Ask yourself how much this premise appeals to you. If you think it’s deeply stupid, congratulations–you’re in possession of normal human faculties. That doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy Tusk, the latest by cult director Kevin Smith, known for his increasingly mediocre stoner comedies and the not bad horror Red State.
Tusk is set in Canada, so about half of the film’s runtime is devoted to jokes about poutine, hockey, “aboot”, and so forth. Johnny Depp appears as a monomaniacal, slightly cross-eyed detective from Quebec. These comic interludes are far too frequent–and this is a long film–for Tusk to really build up any sense of fear or tension. It’s a black comedy, not a true horror film, with a strong sense of the grotesque. In many ways it plays like a reconsideration of The Human Centipede, another gross, unscary film. If you enjoyed The Human Centipede, or were at least perversely motivated to watch it, you’ll almost certainly get a lot of pleasure out of Tusk.
Tusk is dumb, but it’s made with too much evident skill and dedication for it to be simply cast aside. Firstly, the film looks excellent, particularly the maniac’s gloomy mansion, which contrasts nicely with the bright, anodyne colours of Long’s world. Secondly, a lot of the script is genuinely funny. Thirdly, the effects used to produce Long’s transformation nail the balance between ridiculous and repulsive which the film’s tone requires. Finally, and most importantly, the performances are of a very high quality, particularly Michael Parks’ as the madman, Howe veers from Captain Ahab solemnity to obscenity and childishness, mocking Long’s terror at every moment. Long is good as well, although he stops speaking very much around the film’s halfway point. Genesis Rodriguez and Haley Joel Osment play his girlfriend and fellow vodcaster respectively. And Depp phones in a silly accent, if that appeals to you for some reason.
Tusk’s weirdness makes it hard to form a firm opinion on it. At times–usually when Howe is on the screen–it soars towards a kind of obscure grandeur. It’s not poignant, per se, but it resonates strangely. It’s as if Smith is grasping, not without success, at something which neither he nor the audience quite understands. At other times, Tusk feels like a total waste of time, the dumbest film ever made. In this respect the film is sabotaged by its excessive length. Although its moments of brilliance are scattered evenly enough for it to retain your attention throughout, twenty minutes of comedy could easily have been cut to produce a much scarier and more effective film. At the end of the day, I guess Tusk could only have been made by a director like Smith with a little too much control over the creative process. So take the good with the bad, and in this case, the good mostly comes out on top.