Say what you will about Kevin Smith, but you can’t deny what an interesting career he’s had, a true American Dream for the modern world. Ignoring his work as a writer, comedian, podcaster etc, and purely focusing on him as a director, he came from nowhere with Clerks which cemented him as an up and coming Indie darling. His first phase saw him releasing cult hit after cult hit, ending with Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back. His next phase saw a big budget failure, a sequel, a return to his cult type comedies, and a buddy cop movie. Then he turned his eye towards horror, something few could have anticipated, with Red State being an interesting exercise in satire, and Tusk which is… something else entirely.
Born out of an idea from one of Smith’s own Podcasts, Tusk stars the ever game Justin Long as an obnoxious clout follower, a Tom Greene for the new Internet Age. He courts controversy (the Not See Party) and seemingly makes his money by exploiting and making fun of online and real-life idiots. A step above your average Insta-Influencer then. He’s an all round jerk, treating people like NPCs and even his beautiful, devoted girlfriend played by Genesis Rodriguez. For his next episode, he is travelling to Canada to interview a kid who became a fleeting online sensation when he filmed himself accidentally cutting off a limb in the midst of some samurai sword swinging. When his trip is derailed, he instead finds himself lodging with the mysterious and storied Howard Howe who wishes to share some of his sea-faring tales. Unfortunately, Mr Howe is more than what he seems.
Tusk is an odd movie – the whole turning a man into a Walrus is the least unusual thing. For strange for me was the critical divide and reaction. I fully expected critics to not enjoy it, but I didn’t expect that so many would be so bewilderingly upset or sickened by it. It’s not particularly shocking, it’s clearly a comedy with a bit of a horror twist, and it’s so ridiculous that to be so morally offended by it you must similarly be dumbfounded by a toddler farting in your lap. I can only assume the critics are so closeted and precious that they’ve never experienced the real world, never mind the various lewd fantasies which creatives can dream up.
More odd are the characters themselves, and the associated performances. Michael Parks is extraordinary in his dual roles, playing different versions of Howe at different times, while Johnny Depp shows off and seems to be in a different movie from everyone else, hamming things up more than what is required. Elsewhere, Smith’s writing is as characteristically sharp as ever with the dialogue being snappy, the speeches being affecting, and the whole exploitation angles growing more prescient as each new person decides to turn to an empty online world for fame and acceptance. There just happens to also be a bit about legs being amputated and skin being stretched so that an old wrong can be rectified.
It’s not Smith’s best work, but it’s another example of him trying something which few others would, and being better at it than he has any right to be. Let us know in the comments what you think of Tusk!