Maybe it sounded better on paper. Or, given its origins, Kevin Smith’s own podcasting show Smodcast. “A man becomes a walrus,” goes the synopsis. A brief snippet of the clip that captured the moment when the idea came into fruition plays over the end credits. The director sits in front of the microphone with his long-time producer Scott Mosier and has a laugh about a Gumtree advertisement offering free accommodation to anyone willing to dress up as a walrus. Both of them are cracking themselves at the thought of it, turning the ridiculous notion into a schlock-horror that would share shelf space with Killer Klowns From Outer Space and Attack of the 50 ft Woman. Thus Tusk was born. The advertisement turned out to be a prank.
The film is too ridiculous to be taken even remotely seriously and it’s a shame as a genuine horror exists somewhere between it all: Wallace (geddit?) travels to Canada’s frozen lands, specifically Bifrost, in search of crazy material for his own crazy podcast show, The Not-See Party (dude, geddit!). Upon arriving at a huge house late in the night after his original plan falls through (interviewing a YouTube star) he meets an old man in a wheelchair under the premise of hearing tall stories that he can later repeat to his listeners.
Smith’s intentions are all well and good. He’s previously spoken of wanting to make Tusk nothing more than a “fucked up” film featuring a deranged madman quoting Lewis Carroll and Rime of the Ancient Mariner. To his credit, he succeeds with this – the film is certainly fucked up (in parts) and the plot consists of little else.
Still, even when keeping a reading of film loose and fun – the scene featuring Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Tusk’ playing underneath is testament to this – it still falls dramatically short. The usual Smith gags are present as always: dick jokes, jerking off jokes, variations of both together jokes. (This time around he’s thrown in an extra thirty Canada’isms for good measure.) It’s standard stuff that dates back to his stellar Clerks days; back then, it was fresh and exciting and often hilarious. Today, it’s all feeling a little tired, like a Dad trying to impress his son’s college mates.
Where’s the Kevin Smith that made Red State? Tusk was created as a reaction to this, and it’s a weaker film for it. Red State was genuinely uncomfortable at times. If you didn’t know the director, you never would have guessed. Tusk could have operated within the same frame but instead of a terrifying horror film we’ve got something rather cheesy and created from a self-conscious mind (he sought twitter to validate whether making the film was a good or bad idea). The film, like the shooting schedule and proposed Canadian True North trilogy, is fast and loose, but it’s so fast that the ideas aren’t well thought out whatsoever. There’s a romantic subplot neatly edited in that offers little in return.
At this stage in his career, Smith is at his most unpredictable and at the same time being completely predictable. He acknowledges how powerful Red State is and has also spoken about his fear of trying to recreate it. He is a director whose self-esteem has ruled his approach to what films he makes (just watch any of his Evening With… stand-ups) and at this point it’s only hurting him.
Creating a cheesy horror is one thing, but to deliberately do so is to cross a very fragile line. (See Birdemic as an example of unintentional, versus the deliberate Sharknado.) It’s impossible to read too much into it – there are dodgy black and white flashbacks as the cherry on top – and that’s the biggest disappointment. The final product is so flimsy one doesn’t know what to feel.
[rating=2] and a half
Nicholas Brodie - follow Nick on Twitter here: @fodusempire