2014 / Director. Kevin Smith.
Review by Jarret Gahan.
Shock jock podcaster Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) is a seasoned traveller of North America, regularly scouring the country for oddballs to interview and exploit on his program ‘The Not-See Party’, co-anchored by Teddy Craft (Haley Joel Osment). It’s across the border though in Manitoba Canada that Wallace will finally met his match, in one rather charming hermit Howard Howe (Michael Parks). Howard has been a traveller himself, having sailed the world over he has many a tale to share and Wallace comfortably perched by a fireplace with a cup of tea is keen to hear every one of them. However story-time is abruptly cut short when Wallace having finished his tea falls to the ground mid-tale, it’s only the following day awakening in a wheelchair that Wallace realises that he himself has become part of the rich tapestry of Howard’s legend.
TUSK was bore from a Smodcast conversation between Writer/Director Kevin Smith and long-time collaborator Scott Mosier where the pair discussed a UK Gumtree classified on-air. By the end of the program Smith had fleshed out the advertisement into a film pitch and they asked their listeners to vote #walrusyes if Smith should pursue turning the concept into a film or #walrusno if he should leave it be. Lucky for us Smith’s loyal army of followers voted yes and the filmmaker has gone on to surprisingly craft his most original film in over fifteen years. Smith’s prior film RED STATE saw the filmmaker step out of his comfort zone to deliver an adequate thriller that seethed with promise but seemingly failed in its execution. TUSK finds Smith once again in unfamiliar territory but this time at the top of his game, perfectly blending genuine suspense with bad taste and an morbidly awkward sense of humour, his splicing of genre traits is comparable to that of the masterwork created by the film’s villain, Howard. The only fault to be picked in the fabric of the film is that of the character Guy Lapointe though it’s hard to distinguish whether it’s in the writing itself or the portrayal of the character by an unaccredited Hollywood A-Lister that is to blame. Guy is similar to Inspector Clouseau, from a screwball demeanour right down to the French accent, he’s over-the-top and somewhat out of place in what is predominately a tense well balanced horror comedy.
Smith has overcome his own self-referenced point and shoot aesthetic of his prior films by working with cinematographer James Laxton, together they have captured the mood of the script with subtle creeping camera movements, a textured glow and some stand-out compositions. Christopher Drake’s score is also a perfect companion to the film, moody yet understated and a true revelation coming from a first-time feature-film composer. The performances all aside from the A-Lister are solid but particular kudos need be paid to Michael Parks who manages to marry humour, menace and an endearing sensibility to his role as Howard Howe, a character worthy of going down in history as a genre icon.
With a career spanning just over two decades, the question has been asked whether Smith is still relevant in contemporary cinema and if he’s capable of delivering a good film outside of his own self-inflicted Askewniverse, the answer is TUSK and I’m voting #walrusyes.