Editor’s Notes: The following article is part of our coverage of the 2014 Fantastic Fest. For more information on the festival visit fantasticfest.com and follow Fantastic Fest on Twitter at @fantasticfest.
Warning: Some pretty hefty spoilers ahead.
2012 was a crummy year. There really isn’t a nicer way of putting it. Every aspect of my life had seemingly gone up in flames, making getting out of bed every morning feel more like a chore than the first step to a day full of joy. In fact, joy was something so incredibly foreign to me I was almost convinced maybe I had never felt it at all. What was so great about living anyway? What was so great about being human? Much to the horror of my loved ones, I went through a phase where I was obsessed with death. If one were to browse my search history, the second most popular topic would be suicide. Its methods, attempted suicide gone wrong, and various theories on the afterlife – I was very thorough in my research. I was constantly wrestling with my humanity and worth. What was so great about the human experience anyway?
It was the most searched topic that ended up not only saving my life but helping me rediscover the joy in life I thought was as tangible as Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. That topic was movies and the people that made them. Even in my darkest moments, I tried to remain optimistic that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Movies are my everything. They comforted me during multiple hospitalizations as a child, showed me new ways to look at the world, took me to places I would never have been otherwise and consoled me through heartbreak. Movies were the one thing I could always count on to rescue me from serious bouts of depression when nothing and nobody else could. It was during this time that I decided to watch in chronological order the films of Kevin Smith. The films I had seen, the ones I hadn’t, and the 3-hour DVDs devoted entirely to Smith answering questions at Q&As. I watched all of them. Multiple times. I really hate to employ hyperbole unless I truly mean it, so trust me when I say that without Kevin Smith I wouldn’t’ be writing this today.
When Smith announced that he was walking away from movies, I didn’t believe him. Not because it’s incredibly rare that filmmakers every truly retire, but because I didn’t really like the idea of a world where new Kevin Smith movies didn’t exist. Smith’s voice is singular, exciting, and constantly evolving. Never has his evolution as a filmmaker been more evident than in Tusk, which opened the tenth Fantastic Fest.
Smith’s voice is singular, exciting, and constantly evolving. Never has his evolution as a filmmaker been more evident than in Tusk, which opened the tenth Fantastic Fest.
In one of the instances where the story that inspired the film is just as interesting (maybe even more so) than the actual film itself, Smith has adapted a conversation he had on one of his podcasts into a feature-length film. Although the final product may not be as masterful as his previous efforts, it is evident from every frame that Smith is back in his zone. That’s reason enough to check out this movie, but there are plenty of others.
Justin Long stars as Wallace Bryton, an LA podcaster who travels to Canada to interview aged sailor Howard Howe (Michael Parks) to record and share his incredible stories. Howe wastes no time capturing Wally, intent on using him as part of his plan to turn him into a Walrus. This is not a film for everybody. In fact if you are a Kevin Smith virgin, this is probably not the film to pop your cherry. Get better acquainted with his other films and then come back to this one. Smith set out to make a movie about a man who is physically turned into a Walrus, and he has done just that. People who go in expecting otherwise are insane. It’s a pretty crazy premise, and Smith treats it perhaps a bit too seriously. However, when he finds the right balance between comedy and graphic terror, the film jumps off the screen.
Another major factor contributing to the film’s success is the film’s performances. Parks commits completely to the role, crafting a character that is completely believable and never over-the-top at all. Haley Joel Osment and Genesis Rodriguez give great performances, with Osment in particular being responsible for one of the film’s best laugh-out-loud moments. There’s a subplot between Osment and Rodriguez that is incredibly peculair mostly because There’s also a cameo that has perhaps been spoiled for many at this point, so I will only say that though his character doesn’t always fit in with the rest of the film’s tone, his performance is the best comedic element of the film. For all the wonderful performances to be found in the movie, Justin Long is truly the unsung hero of the film. Long has this seemingly genetic likability that he brings to his role as Wally that allows for both laughter and pure terror. He doesn’t’ have a lot of dialogue for a good majority of the film (getting your tongue cut out and your femurs filed down into Walrus tusks will do that to you), but he conveys so much through his emotions and body movement that it is impossible to become invested in his arc.
For all the wonderful performances to be found in the movie, Justin Long is truly the unsung hero of the film. Long has this seemingly genetic likability that he brings to his role as Wally that allows for both laughter and pure terror.
Again, this is a crazy movie and your enjoyment of the film is completely dependent on how much you buy into the film’s premise, its characters and their arc. Much has been made of how the film’s final scene feels tacked on and clashes tonally with the rest of the with. While these criticisms certainly may have some validity, the movie’s celebration of humanity and the good and the bad that comes along with it make these accusations pale in comparison. Wally really got put through the gauntlet and could have given up any time, but he chose to keep going. Smith could have given up making movies for real, but he chose instead to make movies that he wanted to make. I could have found the best method for ending my life on Google, but thanks to support from people I know and a director I still have never met face to face, I am able to leave Tusk with a wonderful reminder that the human experience is worth it.
Kevin Smith, if you are reading this, thank you for all you have done. Please don’t stop making movies. You are your toughest critic and might think nobody wants you to make movies. But if there’s one thing you learned from Tusk it’s that you can still influence people. There’s a lot of talk how this is your return to form. “Kevin Smith is back,” they all say. I don’t think you ever left. I hope you never will.