Kevin Smith continues his unexpected second career as a horror director with ‘Tusk’. The film is less thematically ambitious than ‘Red State‘, but more successful for it. ‘Tusk’ is a twisted slice of body horror that finally sees director visualize some of the perverse imagery he’s had his characters describe for twenty years. (Don’t forget, even ‘Clerks’ had a little necrophilia.)
The idea for the movie sprang from a conversation Smith had on one of his many podcasts. It started with a bizarre online ad from a recluse looking for someone to stay with him and dress up as a walrus. Smith spun the idea out into a weirdo body horror yarn involving what can only be described as involuntary amateur plastic surgery. On the podcast, the concept was a joke. On screen, it’s played sincerely and turned into quite a disturbing little picture.
The plot follows Justin Long as a podcaster who heads out as a joke to visit a lonely man with a walrus obsession, but ends up undergoing a slow and painful walrus transformation to fulfill that weirdo’s sick fantasy. (The weirdo in question is played by longtime exploitation character actor Michael Parks, ensuring maximum creepiness and surprising believability). Along the sidelines, Haley Joel Osment and Genesis Rodriguez pop up as Long’s friends on a desperate hunt to find him, alongside Johnny Depp as a hilarious French Canadian detective. (Depp appears unbilled and I’d keep that a secret if the internet hadn’t spoiled it weeks ago.)
‘Tusk’ is an undeniably creepy and twisted little film, one that gradually builds its disturbing nature so effectively that it’s a shame the central concept had to be spoiled to sell the movie. Smith’s dialogue is as strong as ever, while his skill as a visual stylist continues to grow. This is easily his most polished, slick and sick production. The makeup effects by KNB are suitably gag-inducing (if a little rubbery), while the performances are all excellent – especially Long, who commits remarkably to his perverse transformation. Parks is at his most terrifying, and Depp turns in a particularly Deppian turn.
The movie has flaws in its pacing and the occasional rut of talkiness, but nothing deadly. Overall, Smith as delivered a deeply unsettling, often hilarious and surprisingly moving little movie that is unlike anything else. It’s a good thing that the writer/director didn’t actually retire after ‘Red State’ as planned. That self-financed feature seemed to open up previously untapped skills in the filmmaker and kicked off a very unexpected new chapter in his career. Hopefully he has a few more left-turn movies left in him, because the guy only seems to be getting better by challenging himself to pursue his most insane ideas.