Ginger Nuts of Horror
Dir: Kevin Smith
Stars: Justin Long, Michael Parks, Hayley Joel Osment, Genesis Rodriguez.
Ah, Tusk. Kevin Smith's second foray into horror, following Red State - a film I've only watched half of, but really, really liked - and one I've heard a lot about and very little of it good.
The film opens with Wallace (Long) and Teddy (Osment) as they record their very popular podcast, The Not-See Party (and yes, if you say that fast, it does sound like Nazi Party - no doubt intentional and the subject of more than one joke in the film, with diminishing returns) in which they watch and take the piss out of various internet videos. Their current subject is 'The Kill Bill Kid', so named because of the video he made where he's messing about with a Samurai sword in his garage and chops a leg off (inspired, no doubt, by 'Star Wars Kid' - though I wonder if the fact that that fellow received years of bullying and hatred following his ill-considered video was part of the inspiration...). Heading up to Canada to interview the lad, Wallace finds out that he's committed suicide, which pisses Wallace off more because he feels it was a wasted trip (classy, no?). Whilst in the toilet of a local bar, he finds an advert for a home help and in return the help will document the hirers many and varied adventures and exploits. Intrigued, Wallace arrives at the remote mansion of Howard Howe (Parks), who regales him with tales of meeting Hemingway, of being lost at sea and of being succoured by a huge walrus he names Mr Tusk. During these tales, Wallace passes out and comes-to tied to a wheelchair. Though the pretence is maintained for a few scenes, Howe eventually tells Wallace of his creating of a walrus suit and his plans to put Wallace in it, thus recreating his encounter with Mr Tusk...
Fear not. The above, though lengthy, contains very little in the way of spoilers as you know pretty much what this film is about from moment one. There may be some slight spoilering later, but I assure you it will aid in your decision to watch this flick.
First off, I really enjoyed the first forty or so minutes of the film. It's typically well-directed by Smith and the dialogue is sharp, funny and absurdly black as you'd expect from him. Through action and talk, we come to realise that Wallace is a bit of a prick, quite frankly. He seems only concerned with his own needs and has little awareness or care as to how his actions affect others. Perhaps there is a bit of subtext with how we dehumanise others by laughing at their misfortunes and thus become less empathetic ourselves - it may even speak to the current trend for internet bullying and trolling, the faceless interactions which almost always tend towards the cruel and callous.
Anyway... I thought the first half of this film was masterful. The character development, the clear direction the film is taking and finally, the encounter with Howe and the palpable sense of dread as we know something shitty is about to happen - there's even some nice foreshadowing; Wallace/Walrus; the fact that Long sports a 'walrus' moustache - all point towards what could have been an absolutely top-notch horror film, laced with dark humour. Instead...
Instead, what we get in the second half is absurd and cheap, as we finally see Wallace stitched into the walrus suit. The suit is clearly supposed to be built form the scraps of many other people's skins. It's also extremely fake-looking, very obviously rubber. We also lose Wallace's facial features in this blubbery mass and thus we are robbed of identifying him as the person we've gotten to know. For even though he is a bit of a despicable arsehole, we should still feel empathy for him. I'm not a huge fan of this current trend by some who say they wish so and so would get killed in a movie. I appreciate they probably wouldn't feel like this in real life - I'd hope so, anyway - but it still niggles me. Empathy is not supposed to be about liking someone, it's supposed to be an inherent human response to pretty much any other human in distress. It's why most racists and the like need to reduce the target of their hate to less than human; it clearly helps with the prejudice. But by reducing Wallace to an amorphous pink blob, we are robbed of even this slim attachment and can only feel disgust or a weak pity.
As Howe wreaks his intent on Wallace, there are also flashbacks which detail how Wallace has changed. Most of this comes from remembered conversations with his girlfriend, Ally (Rodriguez), where she berates him gently for not being the same Wallace anymore. It's an interesting device because while it cements Wallace as a dick, it also shows where his thoughts go when he is distressed (he also remembers a conversation with Teddy where it's clear Wallace is sleeping around, but never mind...). After finding desperate and whispered voicemails on their respective mobile phones, Ally and Teddy head to Canada to try and find Wallace. There, they hook-up with private detective, Frank Garmin form Quebec, who has been tracking Howe for years. This subplot cements the inferiority of the second half of the film for me. Garmin is neither funny nor interesting. He takes up a huge chunk of screen time for very little input and ultimately is only there to point Ally and Teddy in the right direction, bringing all three to the house just in time to witness...
Well, I won't say but my interest really struggled with the second half of the film. It feels like the last fifteen minutes of a horror stretched out to forty or fifty. When they could have focussed on the interplay between Wallace and Howe, the sense of threat that Howe embodies - and Parks does it so well; there's a fantastic bonkers scene where he recites Incy Wincy Spider in a really creepy faux-kid's voice - the great slow-burn that the film had going for it in the first half; instead they decide to go for a cheap effect and some stretched out, ludicrous scenes.
Don't get me wrong. I don't hate the film, I'm just a bit disappointed. Smith clearly knows what he's doing with horror films and to go for cheap laughs - though I didn't find much to laugh about in the latter stages and neither was it particularly disturbing - to me, seems a waste. There was so much potential in this one, so much to be said on the nature of dehumanizing through virtual interaction, empathy and the complex way in which we approach and react to other's misfortunes.
Still, hopefully this will give you a clearer idea of what to expect if you do decide to watch it and you never know - you might like the part I didn't more than me.