Kevin Smith’s ongoing exploration into horror continues to produce mixed results. Like the ferocious and frustrating Red State, Tusk shows a filmmaker who doesn’t pull his punches, but gets easily sidetracked. The idea for the film sprang from a podcast with Smith’s producer Scott Mosier, and there’s a combination of dark humour, confrontational gore, strong performances and stuff that doesn’t work.
Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) is an obnoxious shock-jock for the 21st century. He travels to Canada for his podcast, the Not-See Party, for an interview that falls apart, but a flyer in a bar bathroom offers a ray of hope. Howard Howe (Michael Parks) is an old man who lives alone and wants to tell his life story.
Wallace soon realises that there’s more to his tales of shipwreck than an old man who survived the impossible. Howard has faced the beast in himself, and wants Wallace to become that beast: a walrus, to be exact.
The first half is very strong. Smith’s glee at getting to make something so strange and twisted is contagious, and it’s tremendous fun to watch Long make the most of the selfish, crass protagonist they’ve created. Wallace is obviously clever, and we’re told he used to be sweet, but we’re not too upset when it’s obvious that Howard has something horrifying in store for him.
As with Red State, the star of the film is Parks. The veteran is at the centre of a strange Venn diagram of actors that can deliver long, powerful speeches about abuse and Ernest Hemingway, shamelessly mug with a Hollywood superstar in a fake nose, and sew a man into a walrus suit made of human skin. As for those body horror sequences, they are truly stomach-turning.
So it’s a shame when the second half begins and Smith sends Wallace’s co-host (Haley Joel Osment) and girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) after him, which adds in the aforementioned Hollywood star in a silly nose and a Québécois accent. It’s weirdly compelling for a couple of minutes, but so much of the tension and pitch black humour is lost.
It’s not quite a success, then, but it’s worth taking a look for that first half and the visceral gut punches Smith manages to land.