Are you really mourning your humanity? I don’t understand, who in the hell would want to be human? – Howard Howe
Tusk, in one word, is bizarre. Two words – very bizarre. The story follows podcaster Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) who travels to Manitoba Canada to interview a viral sensation named “The Kill Bill Kid”. After the interview with the samurai wielding kid falls through, Wallace finds himself still in need of a new interviewee. At a bar he finds a carefully written note that reads, “I am an old man who has enjoyed a long storied life”, the note says a few more thoughtful things and ends with, “I have some stories to share.”
Wallace calls the number on the note and drives to the middle of Canada to meet the author of the note, Howard Howe (Michael Parks). Howe is a quiet, wheelchair bound man who lives alone. He’s an amazing storyteller who speaks with the confidence of a great orator. Howe talks vividly about Hemingway, his time in the war, and getting lost at sea. The most interesting story he tells involves being saved by a walrus who he affectionately refers to as Mr. Tusk.
After drinking tea, that was provided by Howe, Wallace loses consciousness and passes out on the floor. The next morning he awakens to find one of his legs has been removed. Scared, outraged, and still slightly drugged, Wallace tries to piece together what happened the night before. It’s not long before he realizes he’s not receiving medical attention for a spider bite – that’s the reason Howe said his leg was removed – instead he is the prisoner of Mr. Howe. So why is Wallace’s leg gone? Well, Howe plans on turning Wallace into a walrus. Literally. He plans on surgically turning Wallace into a walrus.
After he’s been missing for a few days, Wallace’s girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) and friend/podcast co-host Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) receive a frantic message from him. They both head off to Canada to find their friend who they believe has been kidnapped by a madman.
Michael Parks’ portrayal of a grizzly serial killer obsessed with walruses is on par with Dieter Laser’s insane Dr. Heiter in 2009’s cult classic Human Centipede. Both were driven by motives that allowed them to rationalize killing strangers. I appreciated Howe ALWAYS telling stories. He starts off telling story and never really stops telling them. The dinner scene with Howe going back and forth with Wallace is excellent – he stumbles through his verbose description of a recluse spider while continuing to lie about why Wallace no longer has his limb – the scene ends with a slap and Howe mocking Wallace by loudly cry-howling. It’s brilliant.
Tusk is hard to fit into a genre but it’s on the fringe of being a horror film. The first act plays out like a horror movie straight out of the 80’s. As the story continues to unfold, there are a few scenes that are tough to watch, but the “horror” ends there. That’s not to take away from how disturbing some of the imagery is. Especially the “Mr. Tusk” scenes, they’re tough to watch.
What also stops the film from going full horror is the humor that’s sprinkled throughout the story. Justin Long is a solid comedic actor and his talents are on full display. Even the surprise cameo in the third act adds a bit of quirkiness and comedy to a film that makes the subject matter easier to swallow.
Underneath the creepiness, Tusk is a movie about our animalistic instincts. For example there’s Wallace being a jerk and a womanizer, Ally and Teddy’s relationship, Guy Lapointe hunting down a serial killer, and not to mention Howe’s serial killer ways. As advanced as humans are, we’re just animals with increased intelligence. None of the characters in the film can deny their animal instincts, even when it’s detrimental to them. Howe and Wallace’s final scene together is the movie in a nutshell.
Tusk may not satisfy horror film fans, but it’s a step in the right direction for director Kevin Smith who’s last two films were Red State and Cop Out. Pairing Smith’s artistic talents with A24 Films may be a match made in heaven – hopefully they’ll get together again soon.
Describing Tusk in another two words – acquired taste. It’s a good film, but not something you can recommend to everyone. There will people who love it, people who hate it, but everyone will leave disturbed. And I think that’s the point.