“Tusk,” Kevin Smith’s new horror-comedy about a man who is literally transformed into a walrus, is a different animal of a movie in more ways than one. Smith delivers on the thrills and chills of full-on horror and masterfully interlaces humor in unexpected ways. One of the strangest treats will come in the third act with Johnny Depp, unrecognizable as detective Guy Lapointe. Depp’s brilliantly odd performance adds to the weirdness of an already weird but truly worthy cinematic voyage. When he’s on the screen, you know that someone of a high caliber is playing with the ooey gooey elements of zany humor. Credit Mr. Depp and credit Mr. Smith for that.
Like some meme, there have been a number of reviews that have sprung up that bring up the fact that “Tusk” originated from one of Kevin Smith’s Smodcast audience participation performances. On a “dare,” Mr. Smith proceeded to put together a film built around the premise of a true story about some guy advertising free rent to anyone who would pretend to be a walrus. A feeding frenzy has ensued as some critics have led the charge to put Kevin Smith in his place. It’s a cat and mice game with Mr. Smith in the role of the cat. Mr. Smith has not had a very good relationship with these mice. But what if it was turned around on them and these same mice were dared to do the same, create a professional major motion picture on a dare? That would prove quite daunting.
Kevin Smith delivers not only on a dare, per se, but on a desire to continue to remain true to his instincts. He is mixing genres, folks, simple as that. It brings to mind one classic example of genre mixing, 1975’s “The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother,” starring Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, and Marty Feldman. A number of moviegoers at the time were caught unawares as they had quite absentmindedly expected a mystery. They got a mystery but with a lot of bawdy humor too. In the case of “Tusk,” again we have something a little different at play. You can also compare the high quirk factor in “Tusk” to something more recent, Joss Whedon’s “The Cabin in the Woods.” Smith takes it further as he juggles an ample amount of absurd humor and does it quite well.
It’s interesting to see how Smith interchanges comedy with horror, at times blending the two. There’s a moment when the smartass podcaster Wallace (played by Justin Long) has already been caught in the snare by the serial killer Howard (played by Michael Parks). Wallace has managed to access his cell phone and is frantically leaving a message to his girlfriend, Ally (played by Genesis Rodriguez). He pleads for forgiveness for all his transgressions. Then he says, “I don’t want to die in Canada!” That’s a quick switch to comedy that flows right back to horror: after a pause, he says, “I don’t want to die!” That requires great timing and it works. As things get uglier for our hero, you do reach a point where, depending upon how you want to read it, you could either laugh or sort of gasp but, again, it works. This is not horror that embraces torture porn. No, as Smith has cited himself, this movie is more in tune with the delicate balance of horror and comedy found in the John Landis classic from 1981, “An American Werewolf in London.”
Why would some critics want to trounce upon something creative, legitimate, and competent? Some movies are considered too big to fail. Some directors are considered too big to needlessly anger. In Mr. Smith’s case, he’s made himself quite accessible and has engaged with critics too easily, leading to dust-ups that resentful critics never forget. I’m not going to say it’s some outright critical conspiracy against Smith. However, it would not be far-fetched to say that people are only human and an unwarranted bias can build up. What really matters in the end is that someone like Kevin Smith, preferably Mr. Smith himself, continues to pursue the craft of moviemaking as he sees fit. “Tusk” is an honest effort. Sure it’s weird but get over yourself, that’s what it’s supposed to be.