“A brash and arrogant podcaster gets more than he bargained for when he travels to Canada to interview a mysterious recluse… who has a rather disturbing fondness for walruses.” — IMDb
Tusk, the first of Kevin Smith’s True North trilogy (followed by Yoga Hosers in 2016), only slightly misleads when it opens with “based on actual events”. While it’s true the movie is based on a thing that actually happened, that thing wasn’t a man turning another man into a walrus… it was an episode of Smith’s podcast, SModcast (that he co-hosts with his longtime friend Scott Mosier), in which they spin a hypothetical story based on a Gumtree (a British online classifieds site) ad where a homeowner was offering free room and board if the volunteer agreed to dress as a walrus. Close, but not quite the same. They asked their Twitter followers to vote (#WalrusYes or #WalrusNo) if they wanted to see the story turned into a movie, and, well, you don’t need me to tell you how that turned out.
It only grossed a little under $2 million worldwide, so… it flopped (pun partly intended). It has also been run through the wringer by SO MANY PEOPLE, reviewers and viewers alike, who have called it everything from “pointless” to “twisted” to “overstretched” and, honestly, I think most of them are missing the point. Tusk doesn’t try to be a deep, arthouse film. It has a ridiculous plot and it knows it, relying instead on comedy and self-deprecation (with a dash of satire). It’s very well-aware of its limitations and that’s why it worked so well for me. I mean, Kevin Smith himself said, “I wanted to right what I felt was the only wrong of Red State by scripting something with no religious or sexual politics that could grow up to be a weird little movie and not an indie film call-to-arms or a frustrated self-distribution manifesto. I just wanted to showcase Michael Parks in a fucked up story, where he could recite some Lewis Carroll and “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” to some poor motherfucker sewn into a realistic walrus costume.”
** SPOILERS! **
Firstly, Wallace — Justin Long’s character — is such an inconsiderate dick that you almost feel satisfied when he is shoved into that big, greasy walrus suit. From him snapping at the convenience store employees to poorly attempting to justify cheating on his girlfriend to goofily pretending to jerk off the oosik (that’s the bone of a walrus’s penis…) displayed at Howard Howe’s mansion… you are rooting for him to be put in his place. Though chained to a makeshift Ponder Rock isn’t exactly what I had in mind.
Maybe my favorite scene, as odd as it might seem, was when Wallace realizes that his leg has been removed. Between his slurred speech and horrified shock, it was the perfect blend of horror and comedy.
Michael Parks, who plays the eccentric old man who once shared a bottle of booze with Hemingway, is mesmerizing, and the fact that he also stars in Smith’s Red State makes me want to go watch it like… right now. In one moment he breaks your heart with confessions like, “so with no one to answer to for their horrid crimes, these devils ran amuck with my innocence”, and in the next he blurts out musings such as, “is man, indeed, a walrus at heart?” with such genuine wonder that you burst into a grin.
Maybe my one big complaint was that they did the big reveal of the Wallace walrus too early. I knew it was coming — it’s hard to avoid spoilers with a movie as odd as this one — but I was surprised that it came on so quickly. In one scene Howe has just removed his other leg and sewn his arms to his torso… and then boom, in the literal next scene they do a quick pan-out and there he is in all of his screaming, blubbery glory. I thought it could have benefitted from a few more drawn out scenes of Howe’s literary references and sick justification while Wallace was being slowly transformed.
I also LOVED Johnny Depp’s uncredited role as Guy Lapointe. I actually didn’t recognize him, even, until I read the Wikipedia page after… but it instantly made sense why I enjoyed him so much. He will either make or break the movie for you if you’re on the fence at all before he shows up (maybe 40 minutes before the ending), but I thought he was hilarious, and his flashback to his one encounter with Howe is particularly memorable.
All-in-all, it’s cheesy, it’s bizarre, it’s so-bad-you-want-to-look-away in brief moments… but it’s also hilarious and self-aware and such a weird rollercoaster ride that I’d totally recommend it (as long as you’re not squeamish because, well, the walrus suit was created by Robert Kurtzman — who also worked on Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness to name just a couple among countless — and it is intense).
Rating: 6/10 | Director: Kevin Smith | Writer: Kevin Smith | Music: Christopher Drake | Cinematography: James Laxton | Starring: Michael Parks, Justin Long, Genesis Rodriguez, Haley Joel Osment, Johnny Depp