clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

‘Tusk’: Kevin Smith’s uniquely twisted curiosity cuts deep

Wallace (Justin Long) endures unspeakable abuse inside a haunted Canadian house in director Kevin Smith’s “Tusk.”

Don’t get mad at me.

Don’t tell me your movie-going partner looked at you 40 minutes into this film, made a face like you had just passed gas and stormed out.

That might happen. I’m recommending Kevin Smith’s uniquely twisted “Tusk,” but there’s a part of me that wishes I could un-see it. Over the last 15 years I’ve seen thousands of movies, and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually closed my eyes during a screening because I needed a quick three-second break.

This was one of those times.

“Tusk” is inspired by a real-life online classified ad that turned out to be a fake. A man posted a Gumtree advert looking for a tenant who would dress up in a walrus costume in exchange for room and board. The man claimed he had been stranded on a island for three years with only a walrus for company, and the walrus was a better companion than any human he’d ever known.

The ad attracted the attention of writer-director-editor-podcaster Kevin Smith, who has turned the ad into one of the creepiest movies I’ve ever seen. It’s as if “Misery” met “The Human Centipede” on the corner of Grotesque and Haunting.

Justin Long plays Wallace Bryton, a smug, snarky, self-centered jerk who hosts a successful podcast in Los Angeles with his best friend Teddy (a beefy Haley Joel Osment). They laugh uproariously at the misfortunes of others, i.e., “The Kill Bill Kid,” a sad geek who cut off his own leg while demonstrating his moves with a samurai sword.

Wallace takes a field trip to Canada on a quest to interview the Kill Bill Kid, but he winds up in a cavernous home in the middle of the woods. Intrigued by a flier posted in a bar, Wallace has arranged to meet with one Howard Howe (Michael Parks), who regales Wallace with adventures that include a drinking session with Ernest Hemingway on a ship off the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.

Some of the writing in “Tusk” is beautiful and poetic, whether it’s Howard spinning one of his tales (augmented by black-and-white flashbacks), or Wallace’s girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) revealing her inner turmoil in a monologue back in Los Angeles.

But make no mistake about it, this movie is not memorable primarily because Michael Parks delivers some great line readings, nor is it unique because of the insanely dark humor. What sets “Tusk” apart is the absolute madness that takes place within the walls of that haunted house.

I don’t want to detail exactly what happens to Wallace. Suffice to say the first mutilation he suffers is a flesh wound compared to what Howard has in store for him.

Here’s another SPOILER ALERT for you. One of the world’s biggest movie stars makes a cameo as a former homicide detective named Guy Lapointe, who’s been looking for a serial killer for 10 years. The name of the actor has been leaked, but in the credits for the film he’s listed only as “Guy Lapointe” (Smith is a huge hockey fan, and Guy Lapointe is a former NHL player), so if you don’t want to know who it really is, skip ahead.

It’s … (SKIP AHEAD I SAID!)

Johnny Depp.

With a prosthetic nose, a horrible wig and slightly crossed eyes, Depp is virtually unrecognizable as the bizarre Monsieur Lapointe, who has a very strange way of expressing himself. In another flashback scene, Lapointe recounts his meeting with the serial killer some two years prior, when the maniac played him for a fool. Now, Lapointe is sure Wallace is the killer’s latest prey.

As Howard continues to torment Wallace while Ally, Teddy and Lapointe close in, we hear a version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk,” and it’s either hilarious or just sick overkill. With elements of everything from “Frankenstein” to “The Fly” to every cabin-in-the-woods movie ever, “Tusk” can be irritatingly self-aware at times. It’s also a movie I never want to see again.

But I can’t deny its lasting effect. This is not a movie you forget about as you’re heading for the exit. I’m not sure it’s a movie you’ll ever forget.

A24 presents a film written and directed by Kevin Smith. Running time: 102 minutes. Rated R (for some disturbing violence/gore, language and sexual content). Opens Friday at local theaters.