The movie focuses on Wallace Bryton (Justin Long), a comedian with a successful podcast about ridiculous things that happen in the world. While on a trip to Canada to interview somebody for the show, he runs into Howard Howe (Michael Parks), a wheelchair-bound sailor who promises incredible stories of his life to Wallace. All fairly routine so far; however, the movie ramps up quickly as Howard drugs Wallace and traps him at the house to turn him into a walrus. No, seriously. He’s literally trying to turn him into a walrus. That’s all I’m willing to write for fear of spoiling the rest of the movie, but suffice to say that the movie takes some incredible twists and turns that are hard to see coming. I rarely do this, but for once, I actually recommend that you watch the trailer for a solid idea about Tusk’s feel. The trailer also does a fantastic job of avoiding spoilers.
Even for Kevin Smith, who has done some absurd things in his movies, Tusk sometimes pushes the envelope in terms of discomfort. Most of the movie, like the rest of his filmography, focuses on conversations and character development. However, laughs have been traded for tension. The entire movie is unnerving in a way is more akin to a psychological thriller than a horror flick. Unlike most horror movies, the film is a far cry from a constant assault on the senses like early 2000s torture porn flicks - Tusk plays its cards close to the vest. When things become gruesome or shocking, it’s really only because there’s relatively few violent moments in the movie. It all happens inside your head. Smith’s comedy writing chops shine when scenes ramp up to big reveals and chilling moments, almost as if he’s replacing punch lines with scares. It’s surprisingly effective. However, one place where Smith’s comedy past may not be so appreciated is in the structure of the movie. In Chasing Amy, a ten-minute long digression from the plot for a conversation with Jay and Silent Bob is a welcome distraction from the plot. Tusk’s similarly silly ten minute long digression towards the end of the movie is an interruption that doesn’t add much to the plot or inform any of the characters. In purposefully vague terms, it grinds the movie to a halt and results in a rushed, yet bizarrely satisfying, ending.
This relates to a larger point about Tusk that I am still coming to terms with. I’m sure that if you asked Kevin Smith, he wouldn’t call Tusk a horror movie. It’s still undeniably funny. The idea came from Smith’s own comedy podcast. The fact that Justin Long’s character’s name is Wallace is enough to elicit a groan from even the corniest of dads. The film makes fun of Canadians almost as much as South Park. None of this is inherently a problem - horror movies can certainly be funny. But Smith is notorious for having comedies with a lot of heart and something to say. When abduction, mutilation, blood and gore are involved, it’s hard to reconcile that Tusk is, at its heart, still a Kevin Smith film. It tries to make a point and reach its audience with some of the most affecting and impactful imagery I’ve seen in a long time. As a result, the movie’s conclusion left a bad taste in my mouth. But as a whole, is Tusk in bad taste? I’ll let you decide.