Imagine, if you will, sitting next to your friend idly as he’s scrolling through his phone. He turns to you and grins, “Hey, check out this video of an anteater eating out this guy’s asshole.”
He insists, “just watch.” Call it boredom, call it morbid curiosity, or maybe just call it an inexplicable desire to witness something wild, but for whatever reason, you lean in and watch. Unsurprisingly, the video is exactly as described – an anteater eating out some guy’s asshole.
Your friend guffaws at your reaction. “Ugh! That’s sick! Why would you show me that?!” Then you pause and realize, were you wrong to expect anything other than that anteater eating out that man’s asshole?
And that’s kind of what it’s like to watch Tusk. Or more specifically, what it’s like to watch beloved geek filmmaker Kevin Smith talk excitedly about making Tusk, before actually sitting down and watching the lurid, unpleasant thing unfold before you.
The conceit of Tusk is based on an episode of Smith’s weekly podcast, wherein Smith and his co-host found a joke posting on Craigslist by a man claiming to offer free room and board to any interested tenant, provided he/she is willing to dress up in a walrus costume and entertain him for a few hours every day. Inspired, or rather high off his ass, Smith excitedly began to wax about crafting the post into a horror film, wherein the tenant in question is sewn into the walrus suit and forced to perform for the old man. The director then took to Twitter to ask fans to tweet either “WalrusYes” or “WalrusNo” in regards to whether or not he should write and direct the movie. In a reaction entirely unsurprising for the internet, “WalrusYes” overwhelmingly won out. Tusk was born. Or rather, spawned.
The film follows Wallace (Justin Long) a podcaster with a silly porn mustache who gets his jollies making fun of humiliating viral videos of others. An attempt at meeting and interviewing one of these others leaves him stuck in Canada without a show. Wallace soon discovers a man (Michael Parks) advertising free room and board to anyone willing to hear stories of his many adventures, among them a story of how he was once saved by a lone walrus while lost at sea. Shortly after Wallace arrives, the old man drugs him, cuts off his legs, cuts out his tongue, and sews him into a makeshift walrus costume, so the old man might relive the glory days with his old walrus companion.
And yeah, that’s about it. There’s really not much else to say about Tusk other than it is exactly as Smith himself advertised, with one small exception. He has described the film to be in a similar vein to the old Hammer horror pictures of the 50s and 60s, yet Tusk plays more like a stoner’s riff on Hitchcock’s Psycho, deliriously stumbling along the line between serious and ironic while succeeding at neither approach. It isn’t funny, it isn’t scary, the performances are earnest in all the wrong places, and the characters are all awful, awful people. Picture a bad episode of South Park, then remove all self-awareness, social commentary, and humor, and you’ve just about got Tusk.
Like Psycho, Tusk sees Wallace’s allies, in this case his girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) and co-host (Haley Joel Osment), fly to Canada in search of the missing Wallace. They are met by French-Canadian Inspector Guy Lapointe, played by a lazy-eyed, prosthetic-nosed Johnny Depp in an insufferable performance that seems to stretch the already paper-thin premise into an obnoxious bore. Depp, meandering from line to line in search of a chuckle, reminds us all just how far from grace the actor has fallen in recent years. Meanwhile, the image of a howling, screeching Justin Long in a plastic-y walrus costume is painfully brandished into my memory.
The truth is, Tusk should not be a movie. It really has no right to exist as anything more than a joke on the podcast it was birthed on. It is cruel, unfunny, depraved, and all-around useless as a film. And I guess that’s how the once-proud voice of a generation of independent filmmakers regards his career these days. Just a joke on a phone to be shown to a friend for a laugh.