(minor spoilers ahead)
Let me state this right at the top – I cannot recommend “Tusk” to anyone. At the same time, I would never discourage you from seeing it. It’s a strange paradox of a film that is repellant and magnetic in equal measure and you need to know what you’re getting into before attending. The first act is a great set-up, the last two acts, a punchline.
And the joke is on the audience.
Remember this guy?
Of course you do. All of us had a laugh at his expense. Kevin Smith remembers him too. There’s a not so subtle nod in the first few minutes of the movie to him (here, re-branded as the “Kill Bill Kid,” a hapless soul who accidentally cuts off his own leg of with a katana blade practicing swordplay in his garage.) His video goes viral and our lead character – Wallace Bryton, a self-satisfied, smarmy podcaster – is having a blast watching and commentating on the carnage and is intent on interviewing/mocking him to his face for the sake of entertainment value (“Kill Bill Kid” later commits suicide, leaving Wallace without a subject.) It’s here that the entire conceit of the film is given to us and the conceit is this: we are a culture of mean-spirited voyeurs who love a good carnival show.
George Carlin once famously said, “When you’re born in this world, you’re given a ticket to the freak show. When you’re born in America, you get a front row seat.” Kevin Smith’s new film is a freak show and after laying the ground work of the plot in Act I, whereby Wallace arrives at the home of Howard Howe – a wheelchair bound recluse with “so many stories to tell,” – we’re handed a film that is so preposterous in plot and execution that we are literally being dared to leave the theater. The joke is this: we never will.
Let’s be honest with ourselves here, who hasn’t slowed down to get a glimpse of the car accident on the other side of the highway? That is the impulse I believe Kevin Smith is playing on. Whether he intends to have us mock him, or the film itself, Smith knows once you are in that theater seat, you’re in for the ride no matter how high he raises the stakes or how insanely he escalates the plot. I sat with two friends who knew very little about the premise of the movie and when Justin Long appeared “full walrus” (think “Silence Of The Lambs'” Buffalo Bill suit but far, far more grotesque) halfway through the film, they were annoyed and in audible disbelief. They did not, however, leave their seats – not even for a cigarette or bathroom break. That’s the urge to see the freak show play out in full. Whether it’s mindless reality television, internet videos displaying desperate people debasing themselves for a moment of viral, self-aggrandizing recognition, or a film about a man being turned into a walrus, we the people are all complacent in sitting back, watching, mocking, judging. This is why Smith’s audience, when given the choice, voted #WalrusYes.
There are passing nods to far superior films like “Misery” & “The Fly” present as well as an A-Lister in heavy prosthetics who provides a cameo performance and some levity right around the time the film needs it most (though his scenes are a little “long in the tooth,” yuck, yuck) but overall, I view this entry in Smith’s career as an experiment – perhaps social, or in audience manipulation. The best compliment I can pay the film is that however absurd, it’s definitely interesting and definitely something I won’t forget, whether or not it is necessarily as re-watchable as some of his earlier movies.
Kevin Smith is one of the main people responsible for myself (and really, a large portion of my generation) for believing they could take a stab at filmmaking. I’ve observed his career for many years as a fan and give him a lot of credit for taking such a sharp left turn with his last two films. Regardless of whether he hits it out of the park with this one, he’s taken a really, really big swing and I can’t help but admire it.