Tusk is sure to be one of the more polarizing films of the year. To some, it will be an idiotic creature feature with dick jokes. For others, including me, it's a gory delight.
Elements of the film feel awfully familiar. It often feels reminiscent of Misery, Psycho, The Silence of the Lambs, and during one scene in particular, Jaws. But this is essentially a better executed version of The Human Centipede, one that has far more on its mind than simply grossing out the audience.
Justin Long plays Wallace, a mustachioed douchebag who hosts a podcast with his friend Teddy (Haley Joel Osment). After a promised interview with a one-legged Canadian teen goes bust, he drinks away in a Winnipeg bar until he stumbles across an ad for a room being rented out by a man "with stories to tell."
Not only as an arrogant American but as a stupid horror movie victim, Wallace drives up to this house in the middle of nowhere and drinks the tea provided by Howard Howe (a terrific Michael Parks). Then, of course, things get a little messy.
The dialogue-heavy first half of Tusk is far better than its disgusting second half. Kevin Smith, even though it's been awhile, still has a way with words. There's an extended scene where Wallace and Howard first meet, and their story swapping recalls some of Quentin Tarantino's best work. But Howard's great monologue about getting lost at sea owes more of a debt to Robert Shaw's bone-chilling recollection of the USS Indianapolis from Jaws.
And like Jaws, Tusk is far more effective when it's telling instead of showing. By the time Howard's hideous creation is unveiled, it manages to be both sickening and silly. Sometimes Smith goes for genuine emotion, but then reality snaps in and you remember this is a movie about a guy trying to turn some schmuck into a walrus.
Johnny Depp shows up in a third-act cameo "” taking on the Martin Balsam role from Psycho "” as a Quebecois detective who almost caught Howe years ago. He, and the movie, would be better if he wasn't half-committing to a French-Canadian accent. In fact, there hardly seems to be any real reason for the movie to be set in the Great White North, other than for a few jokes about hockey fanaticism and pronunciations like "aboot" and "zed."
Still, even with the juvenile indulgences, this is Kevin Smith's most confident movie as a director. He's started using bracing long takes to draw the audience in. Many of these are terrific, even if a great monologue from Genesis Rodriguez (as Wallace's long-suffering girlfriend Ally) seems to belong to another movie entirely.
While Tusk certainly isn't on the level of Clerks or Dogma, it shows a sharp new direction for Kevin Smith. Many people will be repulsed by Tusk, but it's still better to look at than Cop Out.