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TUSK Just Tell Me That You Want Me

TUSK

Directed by Kevin Smith
Starring Justin Long, Michael Parks, Haley Joel Osment

Tusk is a strange beast.

Arising out of a podcast of Kevin Smith’s, the film is basically the evolution of a joke based on a community ad (searching for a roommate with free board but with the proviso that they wear a walrus suit). An hour broadcast later and the bones of a script had been formed, as well as a large enough internet fanbase to vote for this idea (through #WalrusYes) to greenlight the project in the director’s mind. Fast forward in time, and the result is hitting our cinema screens. Does it sink or swim?

After an interview falls through, podcaster Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) seeks another story to justify his trip to Canada. He comes across a nautical adventurer, Howard Howes (Michael Parks) who, near the end of his life, has many great tales to tell. However, Howes has other plans, and seeks to re-enact his one moment of communion with nature, by turning his victim into a walrus.

There are the bones of a good horror movie here, but you have to hack through a lot of unnecessary blubber to get to it. The base idea and execution are solid, original, disturbing and so wonderfully strange and surreal. True, this may bear some resemblance to other body horrors (Human Centipede springs to mind), but the concept is pushed to such a ludicrous extreme as to seem fresh and different. The actual walrus suit is well executed and terrifying, selling the concept entirely.

Best of all is the vim and vigour with which Michael Parks approaches the central role of Howard Howes. It’s an “all in” performance, one that has him literally howling and gnashing his teeth as he foams at the mouth. Parks presents an eloquent madman, prone to waxing lyrically about the majestic beast, and the base nature of man, before carrying out unnecessary surgery and laughing gleefully. It is a gonzo part that Parks embraces and forces to work.

Yet somehow Tusk seems to only tread water. The balance that it strives for seems slightly askew, never reaching a harmonious tone between its conflicting elements of humour and horror. Johnny Depp’s third act appearance as Guy Lapointe highlights this. The former Quebec detective hunting a serial killer is an uncomfortable caricature that is cross between Columbo and Clouseau, complete with trench coat and beret. It shifts the whole film towards farce, just when it needs to be gearing towards it’s bloody conclusion. This is probably the best example of why Smith needed to be tighter in his scripting and direction for this bonkers concept to have any chance of working and it pretty much derails any tension that had built before that point, robbing the conclusion of much of its power (and, ironically, humour).

Eerie, uneven and patchy, Tusk ultimately disappears beneath the waves. Yet it is such a strange attempt in film making that many of its unusual visuals and odd scenes will stay with you afterwards.

DAVID O’CONNELL

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