by Hope Madden
In 2010, I had the chance to interview writer/director Kevin Smith. The proposed subject was Smith’s SModcasts – comic podcasts co-hosted by Smith and his buddy Scott Mosier – but I had other ideas. I knew Smith, a filmmaker most known for his juvenile comedies, was putting the finishing touches on his first horror film, Red State, and I was giddy to find out more about that.
Smith told me, “For years I’ve called myself a filmmaker, but it’s not really true. Really I just make Kevin Smith Movies. I’m at that stage where I could make a Kevin Smith Movie with my eyes closed. Let me see if I can make another movie.”
Too few people saw Red State, a flawed but fascinating film that boasted an absolutely mesmerizing performance by Tarantino favorite Michael Parks, but Smith knew he had something great in this actor. Wisely, when the filmmaker returned to horror with this year’s Tusk, he did so with Parks in tow.
Though Tusk is a surreal, utterly bizarre horror comedy, it is without question Smith’s most personal work as a filmmaker. The film follows a podcaster (Justin Long) who travels to an isolated cabin in Canada to record conversations with a recluse (Parks). The podcaster hopes to bring a good story of a weirdo back for the next show, but this story proves a little too weird.
The basic idea, in fact, comes from one of Smith’s actual SModcasts. He found online a letter from a man seeking a lodger, and he and Mosier read it aloud and mocked the man and giggled – the general MO for the show. But somewhere in all that, Smith found the story of man losing his humanity.
Yes, Tusk is a comic riff on The Human Centipede. It’s also an insightful kind of stress dream, so close to home for Smith that, even with all its utter ludicrousness, it feels almost confessional.
Once again, the greatest strength in the film is a hypnotic performance by Parks as the old seafarer with nefarious motives. He’s magnificent, and Long’s work is strongest when the two share the screen.
Smith’s tone shifts wildly from absurd comedy to real terror, but given the film’s insane premise, the approach works because nothing is ever what you expect. Like Johnny Depp as a French Canadian Inspector Clouseau.
There is no film quite like Tusk, certainly not in Smith’s arsenal, which, I suppose, means this is not a Kevin Smith Movie. And yet, there’s more Smith in this film than in anything else he’s made.