Review: ‘Tusk’ is a Tonally Confounding Cinematic Experience

George Huertas ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Justin Long in Tusk. Photo Credit: A24.
Justin Long in Tusk. Photo Credit: A24.

Kevin Smith’s Tusk is a difficult film to categorize. It possesses a great amount of humor, yet it’s executed in a way that makes it uncomfortable to laugh. There is a great deal of grotesque imagery, yet the subject matter is so inherently absurd we find ourselves wondering what emotions we should be feeling. In the end, the best way to describe Tusk would be as one of the most uniquely disturbing motion pictures released this year.

The plot begins simply enough: podcaster and complete douchebag Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) is part of the two­-person comedy podcast the “Not­See Party,” (get it?) wherein Wallace recounts odd tales from his travels across the nation to his friend, Teddie (Haley Joel Osment). When a trip to Canada for a new subject doesn’t pan out, Wallace, desperate for a new lead, finds a handwritten note in a bar, penned by one Howard Howe (Michael Parks). The note promises the grand and strange tales that Wallace is looking for. But when he arrives, he finds something much, much weirder than what he planned for.

Justin Long and Michael Parks in Tusk. Photo Credit: A24.
Justin Long and Michael Parks in Tusk. Photo Credit: A24.

Tonally, Tusk is scattershot, but this feels intentional. The central story, which involves Wallace being transformed into a walrus-­man, is both disturbing and surreal. It begets a strange mixture of laughter and horror, resulting in an overall state of disbelief. There are many moments where the comedic scenes do work (small bits of visual humor, such as drinks at a Canadian 7­11 knock­off being called “Chug­Eh­Lugs”, for instance) and other scenes where they do not (the long, long flashback conversation between Inspector LaPointe and Howard which goes absolutely nowhere). These serve to make the sudden shifts to horror all the more jarring. While these tonal shifts feel intentional, they can also feel confounding, as they don’t give the audience enough time to build up responses to the respective tones.

In regards to build­up, there are also many, many flashback sequences which simply feel out of place and disorienting. Structurally, they should have been woven throughout the beginning of the film, rather than breaking up moments of tension with levity.

Haley Joel Osment and Lily-Rose Melody Depp in Tusk. Photo Credit: A24.
Haley Joel Osment and Lily-Rose Melody Depp in Tusk. Photo Credit: A24.

However, a major plus the film has is the performance of Michael Parks as Howard Howe. Truly, Parks is able to lend a sense of quiet menace and terror to Howard, which makes the horrifying nature of Wallace’s situation all the more palpable. The eeriness that Parks brings to the film helps the horror sections along, ratcheting the tension up to almost nail-­biting extremes. And the bits where the humor works truly do work. Make no mistake, when it’s tonally appropriate, Tusk can be a very funny film. The climax in particular manages to mesh both humor and horror in a truly memorable fashion.

Tusk is, in a word, disturbing. There will be many, many people who won’t like it. That said, it’s a film that is worth a viewing, if only to have an opinion on it. Just don’t count on watching it again any time soon.

Overall Grade: B­

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