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Tusk

Directed and Written By:

Kevin Smith


Starring:

Michael Parks – Howard Howe

Justin Long – Wallace Bryton

Haley Joel Osment – Teddy Craft

Genesis Rodriguez – Ally Leon

Johnny Depp (credited as Guy LaPointe) – Guy LaPointe

Harley Quinn Smith – Colleen McKenzie

Lily-Rose Depp – Colleen Collette


Background:


Tusk came from an episode of Smodcast, where Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier discuss and muse over a spoof British gumtree ad offering board to someone who would be willing to dress up as a walrus. The film was made thanks to the Walrus Yes campaign where fans voted on whether it should happen.


Well, what’s it about?


Two friends (Wallace and Teddy) host a fairly vicious podcast, The Not-See Party, which specialises in taking the most embarrassing parts of the internet and exploiting the poor bastards involved further for podcast content and giggles. When they discuss a viral video of the Kill Bill Kid, a poor sod who very stupidly cut his right leg off while poncing around with a katana. Wallace informs the world that he will be traveling to The Great White North to interview the one-legged star, to rub some salt into his mental and emotional wounds.


Much against his girlfriend Ally’s advice, Wallace travels to Canada for the all-important interview, only to arrive at the kid’s house during what turns out to be the his funeral after he killed himself. Untouched and uncaring about the situation, He calls Teddy to tell him there’s no interview and that he has to try and find something else fast. Luckily, movie serendipity strikes while he’s having a piss and he notices an ad on the bathroom wall offering free board and lots of interesting tales from a lonely old man.


After pissing off the clerks at the local convenience store while getting directions, he arrives at the ad house and meets a wheelchair bound and harmless looking old man by the name of Howard Howe. While hearing stories about the sea and drinking a cup of tea, he starts to feel woozy and passes out thanks to the tea being laced by his host.

When Wallace wakes up the next morning, he finds himself strapped into a wheelchair and his left leg missing. Howard tells him he was bitten by spider and a local doctor had to amputate it to save Wallace's life.


Only the viewer can see that Howard is the Spider, and that Wallace is the prey caught in the web.


What comes next is intense psychological terrorisation that can only be achieved while strapped to a wheelchair and sitting at the dinner table during the worst sleepover in history. We watch as Wallace realises that he is in eminent danger thanks to an increasingly unsettling Howard. When Wallace starts screaming and swearing at his host, Howard stands up, walks over and slaps a shocked Wallace across the face with all the calm grace that only someone in total control of a situation could have. The host’s mask of harmlessness has now completely gone.


With Howard now in full control, he suspends his doddering old man act and lays out his plans for his guest. Mr Howe is pining for the one thing he ever truly cared about, a walrus he named Mr Tusk, his saviour after his ship, the Anastasia, was sunk by an iceberg. And Wallace, is the going to become a surrogate Mr Tusk. After Wallace is caught making phones calls begging for help, Howard knocks Wallace unconscious and gives the chilling warning ‘Should you wish to continue living, you will be a walrus...or you will be nothing at all’.


Teddy and Ally, after receiving the frantic messages from Wallace, begin to search for their friend. When they get to Canada, a local detective points them to P.I. Guy LaPointe for help. He has some knowledge of the man they are looking for as he came face to face with him, and then walked away (which still haunts him). With serendipity striking again thanks to Wallace being particularly annoying to the two convenience store clerks before, the searching trio are able to obtain Howard’s address and race to get to him before too much harm has come to him.


Next we see Wallace undergo the horrific transformation from human to man-made walrus. We watch as Howard preps an unconscious Wallace, taking off his remaining leg and sowing his arms partially to his chest. All the while, loudly reminiscing about the abuse he suffered at the hands of the people who were entrusted to care for him. Wallace, we later see, is then sown into a walrus suit. The suit is made of human skin, with ears and noses poking out in various places. The physical transformation, in all its horror, is complete. We watch as Howard breaks Wallace further by making him act like a walrus, almost drowning him twice and making him eat fish with no aid.


Howard reveals that his all of this comes from killing and eating Mr Tusk six months after becoming stranded, and the guilt felt after a rescue boat arrived soon after. Ever since, he has attempted give Mr Tusk one more chance at survival, and ultimately free himself from the bitter memories since his rescue. Wearing in his own walrus suit, Howard starts a fight with Wallace. The cries and screams emanating from the room luckily alert Wallace’s friends and the race through Howards home trying to find Wallace.


The walrus fight reaches its fever pitch when Howard sheds his suit and proclaims that although Wallace’s survival instincts have kicked in, so as his. It all ends with Wallace eventually managing to get one over on Howard while he’s holding a weapon above his head, killing him by repeatedly goring Howard with his tusks. Howard dies knowing that he had his perfect final moment with Mr Tusk, his mission fulfilled at last.


Ally and Teddy enter the room as Wallace is screaming in victory, causing them to look away in horror and distress. LaPointe later enters the room and aims a shotgun at Wallace.


We cut to one year after the incident at the Howe House, Ally and Teddy visit Wallace at an animal sanctuary. After throwing him a fish to coax him out (and a flashback sequence where Ally mentions that crying is normal as it’s what separates us from animals), Ally tearfully tells Wallace that she loves him before walking away with Teddy. We then pan to Wallace, who sheds a tear before howling and retreating back into his shelter.


The one constant thread in this film is how flawed we are when we forget our humanity.

Wallace is a failed comic who, with the rise of his podcast, has become a self-centred, sardonic and cruel skid mark of a man who will step on the neck of anyone if it will help him to maintain the fame that his has garnered. He’s a piece of shit towards his girlfriend, cheating on her constantly with his fans and laughing at her attempts to keep him grounded. Even when she tells him she misses the old Wallace, he bites back stating that basically old Wallace was a loser as he didn’t have the fame or money he has now. At the end of the film, it took his literal dehumanisation before Wallace could find the humanity he abandoned for fame.


Howard is a man with much darkness. He is a man distrusting of his own thanks to his awful experiences as a kid, he felt abandoned and used by the very people who was meant to care for him. The only time he can remember being truly happy was when he was with the walrus . And even that came to a sad end thanks to his human needs and survival instincts. His actions have left him scarred and time has made his guilt turn into a psychosis in which he feels that he must right a wrong.


Ally and Teddy are not innocent parties either, both of them are betraying Wallace’s trust by seeing each other behind his back. Which to some extent is understandable since Wallace isn’t exactly faithful or kind to her and uses Teddy as an excuse to exclude her from travelling with him. But both of them have flaws that are inexcusable. Teddy is very much an enabler of Wallace’s vile behaviour because it benefits him. Ally just seems to be weak willed woman who really should walked away a long time ago. She would rather cheat then make a clean break. She clings on to what “old Wallace” used to be and can’t seem to shake that bond.


Apart from Howard and the reveal of Teddy and Ally’s affair, we find out how messed up the main characters are through the use of flashbacks. Few of them triggered at points where Wallace is unconscious.


There are also many knowing Easter eggs relating to the Smodverse for fans, like the Hollywood Helper segment theme being used as ringtones. Ralph Garman’s character is called Frank, after a letter received to the Hollywood Babble-on podcast mistakenly called Ralph Frank.


Did it deserve the mixed reviews it got?


No, it certainly did not!


This was a very good premise for a film, and even with its flaws (which even I will admit, there are a couple), it delivers a fantastic narrative which also delves into the subject of humanity and what we become when its striped from us. The film is complex for sure, there are many little things to pick up on that are easily missed on first watch. All of which help to make a bit more sense on the scenario playing out in front of you.


The mixture of psychological terror and body horror are done to perfection, with the body elements done with the balance and impact to leave a long-lasting impression, but not taking anything away from the actual story telling. Plus, the humour used to give the viewer a breather from the horror is always welcome. And the flashback sequences help to drive the story and give further understanding of situations without suffocating the flow of the film.


Both Michael Parks and Justin Long are mesmerising on the screen, both playing their parts beautifully. It must be tough to keep such a chemistry alive when the roles demand extended screen time with one party being broken and the other doing the breaking. But both maintain the tension and deliver performances that leave a lasting impression on you.


There is a powerful message about what monsters we become when we lose our humanity. We see that this has already happened to both characters, Wallace lost his for his desire for fame and his willingness to sacrifice people on the altar of public ridicule in order to achieve this. And Howard was stripped of his as a child, thanks to constant physical and sexual abuse by people in positions of trust and power. And although one reason is more tragic and understandable then the other, both will lead you to the path of self destruction.

If I could change anything it would be which of Wallace’s legs was amputated first, so that it matched the leg that the Kill Bill Kid cut off, but that really is just me being a little nit-picker.


Overall, this is a solid movie that really didn’t deserve the reception it got, and it just shows how remarkable Kevin Smith can be when he is allowed just take an idea and run to the left field with it. Plus, any film that can give the viewer a kind of duelling banjos moment of scene chewing between Johnny Depp and Michael Parks will always be something special.

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