The hashtag “Walrus Yes” started because Kevin Smith wanted to see what kind of market existed for a body-horror-torture-porn about a walrus suit, and Twitter responded with a resounding “HELLS YES!” Fast-forward some months and we’re now at the film’s Fantastic Fest premiere, after opening to a pile of rave reviews coming out of Toronto – which is why I’m suggesting a change to the “Walrus Yes” hashtag. Having now seen Tusk, I’m lobbying for the following to take precedent on Twitter: #WalrusFuckYes – get it going people, because Smith has made a horrific furry fantasy that even the filmmaker’s podcast description couldn’t tease properly.
If you’ve been living under a rock, here’s the skinny – Justin long plays Wallace, a self-centered podcaster who exploits oddballs for the storytelling potential, as he travels around interviewing them one by one. Listeners of the Not-See Party (Not-See, Nazi, get it?!) then hear Wallace explain his interactions to podcasting partner Teddy (Haley Joel Osment), shamelessly heckling each and every obscure case – something Wallace’s girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) is growing tired of. The podcast’s next case brings Wallace to Canada, visiting a “Star Wars Kid” ripoff dubbed “The Kill Bill Kid” who accidentally cuts his leg off with a katana. But after interrupting his funeral, the podcast host finds himself without a story, and that’s where Howard Howe (Michael Parks) comes in. Posting an ad offering free lodging as a fair trade for completing chores, Wallace finds himself in front of the story-spewing old seafarer, eventually passing out after being drugged. From here we learn of Howe’s sinister plot to turn Wallace into a walrus, and yes, I seriously mean turn him into a walrus.
Walking into Tusk will garner a few conflicting emotions, as people are weary of how Smith can blend his signature style of cutting dialogue with vile body horror methodologies. And while true genre lovers may send some red flags up during Long’s chatty establishing segments, once Parks reveals his cruel intentions, Smith presses the pedal to the floor.
What the director creates is a Frankensteined effort that draws obvious inspirations from said universal classic, making Howard Howe his mad scientist. But there are also glimpses of unforeseen goriness and hilarious chattiness that blend elements from all of the auteur’s greatest works, elevating them with horror insanity. There’s absolutely more comedy than scares, but Smith evokes EVERYTHING that makes horror such a spectacular genre, going acres off the reservation in exploring a story never meant for the sane of mind – with Smith’s childlike excitement enjoying every walrus-y second.
The truth is, while Tusk draws audiences on concept alone, it’d be nothing without Justin Long and Michael Parks, who come together to form a victim and villain duo that Smith must feel like a genius for puppeteering. Long appears harmless, yet we learn that his podcast’s growing popularity is slowly transforming the once nice guy into a self-obsessed hit-whore who takes everything for granted – this is where Parks comes in with his growing hatred of humanity.
While Wallace’s predicament may seem like coincidence, Long’s character ends up being the perfect subject for Howe’s experiment, acting as the exact kind of sleazy, power-hungry chump that Parks’ character hates seeing. In his own words, “people are oceans of shit,” with the walrus representing civility. Of course, all makes sense after Howe reveals he was lost at sea for a long period of time and saved by a walrus, so in his mind, there’s no more noble creature on Earth than the walrus – an obsession that makes sense as he rants on about reality television and the steady societal decline that man continues to pursue.
While I commend what Long accomplishes, especially within the walrus suit, it’s Parks who transforms into a maniacal madman boasting class, preachy hatred and an absolutely bonkers obsession that works far beyond what a walrus-obsessed recluse should be able to achieve. When we meet Parks, he appears as the devil himself, dressed dapperly and placed in-front of a roaring fire that mirrors Hellish flames. Weaving lies with a serpent’s tongue, Parks’ charming charisma hypnotizes and unsettles with the simplest ease, howling along with Justin Long’s cries for help only to accentuate the utter helplessness that Smith’s lead character feels.
Spewing intellectual quotes from the likes of Hemingway and other prodigious writers, Howe’s plan increases with psychosis as Parks keeps building upon an incredibly sane demeanor tweaked by a survivalist scenario that caused some kind of walrus-induced-PTSD. Howe is a seafaring devil with the most bizarre of intentions, yet Parks’ absolutely stunning performance brings an understandable gravity to Tusk – yes, I just called a sinister surgeon slowly transforming a man into a flippered beast “understandable.”
Unfortunately, the only thing keeping Tusk from being an INSTANT classic, because Tusk will assuredly become an enjoyably twisted cult classic, are a few extremely talky scenes that are drawn out far beyond their expiration. The beginning notes are brilliant fun, poking around at Canadian stereotypes by establishing Cana-dos and Cana-don’ts that are doled out by none-other-than Epic Meal Time’s Harley Morenstein, in all his bearded glory.
We also meet the stars of Yoga Hosers, two convenience store brats played by Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Melody Depp, and a detective named Garmin played by none other than Ralph Garman. All these scenes are long enough to hit every necessary joke without becoming repetitive – until we meet Guy Lapointe.
While I won’t spoil the actor who plays the man that helps Teddy and Ally hunt down Howard Howe, there are numerous scenes that linger far longer than they should. I get it – you hook a huge A-List actor and completely rework his identity, offering a role you’d never peg the star to play, and as a filmmaker, you want the gag for the long haul. Don’t get me wrong, the character is hilarious in doses. The way he flattens his Gimli Sliders and offers guns to his accomplices favor huge laughs – “what kind of Americans are you?” – but there’s an unfortunate scene between Parks and “He Who Shall Not Be Named” that feels like an inconsequential eternity. This is a rare misstep, but one that prevents Tusk from gaining a full five stars.
So why am I so high on Tusk? Simple. I love how Kevin Smith never hides his fanboyish nature (nodding to existing cult classics like The Big Lebowski) and his scripting could be one of his more hilarious endeavors as of late. In addition, Smith delivers, and he delivers EVERYTHING horror fans could want from Tusk. Wasting little time, we’re thrust into a Canadian world where we’re asked the question “Is not man a walrus at heart?” Whatever the hell that means, a strange social commentary starts developing before our eyes as Wallace is faced with a devastating acceptance while caught in Howe’s skin-stitched walrus suit, mesmerizing based on ingenuity alone. Trust me, Tusk is the most important walrus-centric horror movie you’ll ever see, only because Kevin Smith has the balls to make it that way.
Tusk is a fearless, ambitious, and hilariously unnerving "horror" film that only Kevin Smith could imagine, walrus suit and all.