A young podcaster heads to Canada seeking a story. What he finds there is certainly not what he expected.
Tusk is Kevin Smith’s new film and although it strays far from his other work it still retains his distinctive voice. It’s conversation heavy and it wears its influences for all to see. Tusk is a film with marked internet references and allusions to such notable performers as the Star Wars kid.
However the film really has a more didactic message regarding how we as an audience ridicule and bully those who share embarrassing videos. The internet has a long memory and mistakes in that medium can last for a lifetime. Tusk deals with the consequences of actions, however bizarre, darkly humourous, and downright weird they may be.
The film follows the story of moustache wearing, cynical podcaster Wallace Bryton (Justin Long). This podcaster is reminiscent of real life comic Marc Maron but really the similarities stop there. Our ‘hero’ in Tusk is a man-child infected with a pre-gamer gate entitled white male gaze. He seeks out the weirdos and the freaks and makes fun of them to a weekly deadline. His podcast is successful; it’s doing well with interest from AMC, but it’s cruel, vindictive, and egotistical too.
The Not See Party
Those qualities however are the exact things that made Wallace famous. His ironic and smug look on life is best encapsulated by the title of his show – The Not See Party. It’s a meaningless name with much more meaningful connotations and it provides humour throughout the film but also an immediate sense of who our hero is.
There is little in Tusk to link Kevin Smith to his earlier (more successful) work like Clerks (1994). Instead this is the Smith that wrote Red State (2011) and Tusk really isn’t a film for mass audiences. However for fans of Smith it’s likely that they will at the very least get the humour on display, even if they don’t find it funny. The direction in Tusk is unimaginative but that remains a staple of Smith’s work and there’s a heavy reliance on the writing and the set up.
Kevin Smith’s distinctive voice
Tusk then is framed with basic shot types, imbued with heavy handed dialogue, story telling, and exposition, but it finds its weird tone in the off putting, grotesque, and often stupid imagery. The narrative is insane and it flits from genre to genre with little (if anything) linking the transition. However this is a film with internet influences and this incessant jumping between narratives could be read as a reference to the way that we browse the internet.
It’s a film that is full of other films and because of that it loses anything that would it make it unique. Our podcaster arrives at a stranger’s house in the middle of the Canadian wilderness. There he is regaled with bizarre stories and tales of this man’s illustrious past. Our podcaster is then drugged and wakes up with his left leg amputated. His captor tells him a tale tale about how he lost his limb but slowly it becomes clear that the captor has bigger designs.
His captor is called Howard Howe (Michael Parks) and his plan is to turn Wallace into a walrus to rekindle a moment in his youth and the only time that he ever felt a real connection – it wasn’t with a human. It’s absolutely absurd storytelling but really the walrus side of things is just a visual distraction. The real narrative is the destruction of an arrogant geek, a man who has done well for himself off the misfortune of others. This is bland writing and it lacks any sort of spark. Instead of a moral lesson, Kevin Smith has opted for torture porn. And with increasingly weak flashbacks he fails to justify the ridiculous abuse meted out on poor Wallace.
It’s hard to write a review of Tusk without referencing the Human Centipede but the tone of of Tusk is completely different. It’s a blackly comic tale full of allusions, references, and post modern storytelling tropes. But it’s also simply a horror film, a nightmare scenario that we can brush off after the credits roll. In fact Smith immediately steps away from the dark ending with a sort of blooper reel that plays at the end of the film.
Uninspired film making
Tusk is self referential, self aware, and perhaps even clever. It comes from Smith’s own podcast and to listen to that is to hear the film come to life. It’s an in joke but its hard to see who the in crowd is. This is cartoon writing with uninspired direction, and clumsily delivered life lessons. This is Kevin Smith writing about a cynical and jaded podcaster (developed via his own real world podcast) and Smith fails to separate himself from Wallace leaving us with vitriol, torture porn, and self deprecating characterization that make the film innately meta.
Having said all of that however there is a certain childishness, a sort of glee inherent in Tusk that makes the destruction of a man (apparently being a dick justifies this ridiculous punishment) amusing. Perhaps it’s the knowledge that Wallace stands for every abusive online gamer, every spite filled keyboard warrior, and every internet troll with his punishment allowing us to enjoy a moment of revenge. But that feeling is short lived and the heavy handed nature of Smith’s writing ensures that Tusk is visceral entertainment at best.