I was in the San Diego Comic-Con audience last year when Kevin Smith, doing his annual thing, told the audience about the movie Tusk.
He discussed how the film started with a discussion—about a strange personal ad he spotted—during his podcast with Scott Mosier, his longtime friend and occasional producer. The discussion turned into an improvised, joke-y horror-film scenario in which an old man takes in a boarder and slowly transforms him into a walrus. He then asked his podcast audience to say “yay” or “nay” to a film with this scenario.
Soon after, Tusk went into production.
The finished product adheres closely to Smith’s original podcast plotline, with just a few changes. It’s amazing that this movie was able to get made, let alone get a theatrical release.
Wallace Bryton and Teddy Craft (Justin Long and Haley Joel Osment) are two geeks who run a podcast called the Not-See Party. They like to cover strange stories, and their latest topic is some dude in Canada who chopped off his leg while filming himself doing a samurai trick.
Wallace—a dickhead who treats his girlfriend, Ally (Genesis Rodriguez), like total garbage—heads to Canada for an interview. When that falls through, circumstances lead to him visiting the rustic and alienated abode of one Howard Howe (Michael Parks).
Howard regales Wallace with stories of meeting Ernest Hemingway, and having his life saved by a friendly walrus after a shipwreck. Wallace sips his tea and throws in the occasional crude comment. Then he hits the floor, unconscious.
What follows isn’t as disgusting as I hoped it would be, but it’s still gross and outlandish: Howard starts amputating Wallace’s body parts as he puts the finishing touches on a permanent walrus suit. Before long, Wallace—sans tongue and certain limbs—is covered in a patchwork of human skin, with tusks fashioned from his leg bones jutting out of his face. The resulting monstrosity is more goofy-gross than horrific.
Credit Long for going “Full Walrus” in this movie. Never has an accomplished actor achieved such a realistic vision of a walrus’ characteristics. Actually, he might be the first to ever try.
Parks is masterful in this movie, transforming from a lonely, old, wheelchair-bound man into a menacing, terrifying abductor in the time it takes him to sing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.” While Long goes Full Walrus, Parks goes totally insane, and the moment in which the two share their first dinner together is blissfully creepy.
Things get progressively silly as Howe trains Wallace how to be a walrus and eat fish with no hands. The film’s tone shifts even further into silliness when a well-known actor, in heavy makeup, shows up playing an investigator who helps Ally and Teddy search for Wallace.
Long does a great job of garnering sympathy for real douchebag. Credit Smith for a flashback scene that shows Wallace being ridiculed by two store clerks (Smith’s daughter Harley Quinn Smith and Johnny Depp’s daughter Lily-Rose Melody Depp). It’s essentially Wallace’s last normal human interaction before his transformation, and it helps viewers feel truly sorry for the guy.
As he did with his superior Red State, Smith loses it a bit with the ending: It’s a bit too serious for this film. There’s a point in the movie in which Smith commits to unabashed lunacy, so a touching payoff seems a bit out of place. However, stay for the credits, because you’ll hear some of the original podcast, and you’ll get an extra scene.
As a fan of good horror-comedy, I appreciate Tusk, even if it stumbles at times. Unfortunately, Tusk is bombing big-time at the box office, so if you are a Smith fan, or if you want to see Justin Long get tortured, get to a theater, fast, before it leaves.
Tusk is now playing at the Century Theatres at The River (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).