Movie Review: “Tusk” (2014, Rated R)

Smith melds classic horror pacing with modern torture porn tropes.

Yes, this is a Kevin Smith film. Yes, it appears to share DNA with “Human Centipede.” Yes, it is being marketed as a horror movie. No, you should not let any of these facts inform your expectations of this movie. “Tusk” is a film that will defy any preconceived conceptions with the sheer power of its what-the-fuckness.

Sure, there is a healthy amount of “WTF” factor to be expected from a movie about a guy that is non-consensually transformed into a walrus. But “Tusk” tackles its subject from unexpected angles. The plot, inspired by a prank personal ad read on Smith’s podcast, is lifted right out of Tom Six’s dream journal. Justin Long is lured into the creepy residence of loveable madman Michael Parks for some not-so-elective surgery. The film is overtly structured after “Psycho,” rushing Long into walrus mode only to circle back to his girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) and best friend (Haley Joel Osment) investigating his disappearance with the help of wacky detective (Johnny Depp inexplicably doing his best John Malkovich impression). Smith melds classic horror pacing with modern torture porn tropes, but replaces the anticipated scares with unanticipated comedic beats. The result is closer to Vincent Price’s “The Fly” than to Jeff Goldblum’s.

The first part of the film is a slog. Long’s role as an exploitative podcaster feels tailored for Jason Lee, and Long fails to create a relatable character. Smith wisely speeds him into his rubber suit, giving Parks plenty of room to chew the scenery. “Tusk” revels in its goofballs, lingering on a scene where Depp and Parks try to out weird each other. And it’s in such moments that the film finds its footing. “Tusk,” unlike “Red State,” only ever pretends to be dark and serious, always pulling back from the brink with an outlandish giggle.

Smith’s vision of Canada is similar to Miike’s Nagoya or Lynch’s Twin Peaks, a polite and hospitable locale populated with eccentrics and alien customs. As the first entry in a proposed Canada-centric trilogy, “Tusk” is a promise of strange and exciting things to come.

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