At a conceptual level, Tusk sounds like it might fit snugly into the expansive subgenre of schlocky horror flicks that occasionally hit it big and garner a dedicated cult following, not unlike the relatively recent Sharknado, or the now infamous Troll 2. In practice, however, director Kevin Smith’s vision doesn’t quite make the memetic leap that might have otherwise catapulted it to “ironic pop-icon” status.
Smith, continuing to ride off the success his ultra low-budget comedy Clerks (1994), originally came up with the concept for Tusk during an episode of his personal podcast, and thought it might be a fun idea to see if he could stretch that spore of an idea into a feature length film. Also responsible for the writing and editing of the film, Tusk is nothing if not an auteur production. It’s strange, but under normal circumstances I might applaud auteurism like this, as it tends to ensure creativity and a rejection of the generic, committee-designed sludge that we see a lot of nowadays. In the case of Tusk though, I find my mind making unconscious connections to George Lucas and the Star Wars prequels, which, as we well know, is never a good situation to be in. As was the case with Lucas, it’s sometimes dangerous when individuals with such a massive degree of creative control are never told “no.”
The film stars Jake Long essentially playing himself, which I suppose he’s pretty good at, and Michael Parks, who’s been around for a good long while now, but whom most might recall from mainly cameo roles in assorted Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, and Kevin Smith movies. As in Smith’s 2011 pseudo-thriller Red State, Parks, for what it’s worth, really does know how to invoke his creepy, deranged side when he needs to. Tusk also features a cameo appearance by Johnny Depp, hamming it up as usual, as the eccentric, off-kilter ex cop Guy Lapointe; and yeah, it’s kind of an act that we’ve seen from Depp before, but that’s what he does now, I guess, and in retrospect I don’t know what I was thinking going into it and expecting anything else.
The fundamental problem with Tusk is that it’s trying desperately hard to be in on the joke; that is, the longer we spend in the the film’s universe, the more things begin to feel unreal and preposterous, but in a calculate, deliberate way. It’s almost as if the film is elbow-nudging the viewer every few minutes going “ha ha, oh man, isn’t this quirky? Aren’t you having fun?” If you refer back to those comparisons I drew earlier, you’ll notice that those films play their concept demonstrably straight and with a brazen lack of ironic eye rolling.
Tusk markets itself as a horror-comedy, but in a more practical sense, all notions of horror are kicked in the head by the end of the first act. Instead, the film focuses on the exploits of the protagonist’s two friends as they try to track him down after he seemingly disappears around Manitoba, Canada. Ostensibly, the film tries to establish some kind of race-against-time scenario, but upon finally tracking down their friend, there’s absolutely nothing for them to do when they get there, thus demolishing any sense of agency that the film had established.
Realistically, the rough horror framework of Tusk is just an excuse for Smith to hang the trappings of his trademark referential humor, which might have been a bit funny if Family Guy or any of its derivatives had never existed. That being said, I’m inclined to be a little generous to Tusk because of its admittedly original concept which continued to kick around in my mind after i left the theater, as opposed to being immediately forgotten. It’s not much of a tag line, but I can decidedly say this much: Tusk—It’s better than Atlas Shrugged!
Rating: 3 out of 5