Reader Requests – Tusk (2014)

When podcaster Wallace Bryton goes missing in the backwoods of Manitoba while interviewing a mysterious seafarer named Howard Howe, his best friend Teddy and girlfriend Allison team with an ex-cop to look for him. (IMDB synopsis)

Well, hullo there, dear reader(s)! Nice to see you. This film was suggested to me by my friend Ross, shortly after I posted my Obey The Walrus review on Facebook, so there’s obviously a link there, somewhere… I was also excited to see this as Johnny Depp is in it, and I am assured that this is one of few film roles in recent years which he hasn’t simply phoned in. All in all, it sounds like a very gripping sort of film. So let’s dive in. (Stealth pun! Ha ha… ah, keep reading, you’ll see what I mean.)

Review:

The film opens on a pair of obnoxious sounding DJs (oh, who am I kidding, they’re all obnoxious) and holy smokes, Haley Joel Osment, er, filled out very nicely. Luckily for him, I’m far too nice to make any ‘I see fat people’ type jokes.
So he and Justin Long play Teddy and Wallace, the hosts of a podcast called the NotSeeParty – not Nazi, as they presumably have to point out during every podcast and multiple times a day to their associates, which means you need a better name, guys. Anyway, Wallace journeys to Canada to interview the star of a recent viral video, but said star turns out to have killed himself, which just goes to show that viral video fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Wallace needs a story, and happens to discover a letter in a public bathroom from a retired seafaring adventurer named Howard Howe. So he hi-tails it over to Mr. Howe’s creepy secluded estate. Howe presents himself as a pleasant and loquacious man in a wheelchair, and he believes we’re all tea people at heart, so I like him quite a bit already. Unfortunately for Wallace, the delicious tea Howe gives him to drink contains some elicit drug, and he passes out in the middle of the interview. Even more unfortunately for Wallace, he wakes up to find that his mobile phone and his left leg have been taken from him, and that Howard Howe has a nefarious plan to turn him into a walrus, both mentally and surgically. Body horror, wahey!
This movie is… quite a strange one for me to review. Although I love it dearly and will surely be craving it again in a few months, it feels a bit, well… muddled. In fact, I believe the first and second halves of the film were made by different people and then stitched clumsily together like so much putrefying human skin for a walrus-suit. More on that in a minute.
Now, the first half has a more serious tone to it. We quickly learn what an arsehole Wallace is, albeit a very well-read arsehole, and get a sense of Howe’s wickedness almost from the moment we see him. My favourite part of the film is when Howe calmly lies through his teeth about the reason for Wallace’s leg amputation, and continues his winsome old man schtick even as Wallace starts screaming to be released. I’ll be honest, that cruel inversion of the kindly grandfather stereotype makes my stomach shrivel, it’s that creepy. And after THAT, Howe gets out of his wheelchair and slaps Wallace around the face before imitating his panicked cries for help. Yikes.
The girlfriend character, Ally, is also more interesting in the first half. She has a scene in which she cries bitterly about the fact that Wallace is cheating on her, and that she has mixed feelings about cheating on HIM with Teddy. She looks like a woman on the edge, and I think that’s quite intriguing. At first I thought this would affect how she takes the news that Wallace in in danger.
But then we get the second half.
Now, the body horror aspect isn’t downplayed in the slightest. We see some quite horrible things happen to Wallace, as his legs are removed, his arms are fused to his sides and he is permanently stuffed into a patchwork walrus suit made from human skin. But the first time you see the Wallacerus in all its glory, you’ll probably burst out laughing. It looks bloody ridiculous! It still has Justin Long’s face, for crying out loud! I’ll let you watch the film and see for yourself; I didn’t want to spoil anything in this article’s featured image.
Even Howard Howe isn’t such an interesting character in the second half. After a while, his constantly spouting prosaic speeches and Lewis Carroll poems wears thin. And I understand that Howard Howe is supposed to be an homage to Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs. I haven’t seen it written anywhere, but the characters share many similar traits.

1) They despise their own identities, though for different reasons.
2) They gain the trust of their victims by pretending to be harmless and in some way physically disabled.
3) They’re both so unfazed by their victims’ suffering that they imitate their horrified screams.
4) They’re constructing their own skin-suits; a woman-suit for Mr. Gumb, and a walrus-suit for Mr. Howe.

Some viewers may be wondering, “Well, if Howe loves sea-bound pinnipeds so much, why doesn’t HE get in the suit?”, and their answer comes at the very end, when Howe expresses remorse that in order to survive the sinking of his ship, the Anastacia, all those years ago, he was forced to eat Mr. Tusk, the walrus that had saved him. So, he gets into his OWN walrus suit – pffffft! – and engages Wallacerus in a deadly rematch. A fight to the death! Mano a mano! Aleta a aleta!
While all of this is going on, Ally and Teddy search frantically for Wallace, with only a strangled voicemail message to go on. They’ve sadly become cardboard cutouts of their former selves at this point and barely even speak to one another. The Canadian police force aren’t helpful to them at all, the officer even cheerfully stating that they don’t have serial killers in Canada, when they’ve actually had at least thirteen. So they must turn to Guy LaPointe, an ex-cop of dubious sanity and personal hygiene, who is played by Johnny Depp. Guy is… delightful… however, he eats up a lot of screen time towards the end in a flashback scene with Howe, which goes on for far too long. The film forgets all about Wallacerus, detracting from the horror and taking us into uncomfortable sketch comedy territory. Now and then I had to sit back from my laptop and wonder what the hell I was watching.

Final Verdict:

Wow, this turned out to be a long review! Better make this quick. Now, in spite of everything I’ve said, I’d like to emphasise that I don’t hate this film. It does have a certain charm, and I can certainly say it’s unlike anything I’ve seen before. I just think that a lot of the time, it doesn’t know what it’s doing. A little tweaking and Tusk could have hit the perfect balance of horror and comedy. As is… not so much.

Rating:

6 1/2 jam sandwiches.

“Mr Tusk, why do you blubber so?”
…Is that a trick question?

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4 thoughts on “Reader Requests – Tusk (2014)”

  1. I agree with you a little but I think Kevin Smith wanted to make a film like the crappy late night tv horrors he used to watch as a kid. He said that those were the ones that stuck in my mind and made me talk about them at school the next day. Also yeah the suite was freaking funny, I love how it didnt go like DUH DUH DUUUUUUH with a build up or anything it just kind of jump cut to him and went… there you go folks. Also if you youtube interviews there is a delightful on set story about Justin Long and his pet dog 🙂 xxx

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  2. This is one of my favourite films. It’s so weird and different, and I love it. I also really like the cinematography. However, I definitely agree with your point about the flashback scene between Howard Howe and Guy La Pointe. I can’t stand that scene as it takes me out of the film, and I do think that if they’d done a bit more cutting and editing, then it could’ve been better.

    I personally didn’t find the human/walrus funny, but I can see why some people would find it funny. It just looked gross and….uuuggghhh. Although I think the walrus-like screaming was worse. That image and the screams didn’t give me nightmares at all…… lol.

    Also, the on-set story about Justin and his dog is from the ‘Fantastic Fest’ livestream. That full livestream is really interesting as well 🙂

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