I have struggled with writing Impressions of things for various reasons. Tusk was difficult because it’s a hard movie to process, as are my feelings about it. I kind of hate this movie, but I also kind of love it. I am fairly certain this is the intended response. That, however, makes it no less challenging for me to respond to. I am even struggling to come up with a proper introduction other than the movie is horrifying, funny in precisely the wrong way, and yet an interesting look at humanity.
In the briefest summary, I can give we are introduced to Wallace who is a shithead. There is no other way to describe him. His podcast is the “not see” podcast (yes it’s a Nazi reference that he tries to play off), and he basically harasses people. He goes away on a trip only to discover that the latest person he’s toyed with has killed themselves in no small part thanks to Wallace’s influence. Wallace desperate for a story finds an ad and meets Howard. Howard is messed up and brilliantly portrayed by the late Michael Parks. He keeps telling Wallace the stories that he wants to hear, but then things suddenly go wrong.
In reality, Howard is obsessed with a walrus from his past, Mr. Tusk, who Howard killed to survive. His solution? Create a human/walrus hybrid that will challenge Howard, killing him, and allowing Howard to die in peace. If this sounds fucked up, then I am on the right track.
Tusk builds on the super messed up science experiment sub-genre that almost took off thanks to movies like this and human centipede. I think part of the reason this movie is so hated is that the sub-genre got killed full stop. I digress. The movie gets increasingly more uncomfortable as Howard literally chips away at Wallace’s humanity. He starts small, with cutting off his legs, but eventually keeps hacking into him to extremes.
In the end, Wallace is fused with many others to create a human/walrus thing? It’s impossible to describe without seeing. Also upon seeing it, I had a strange reaction. I was horrified when we got a vague idea of what Wallace had become, laughed when I saw the whole picture, but then was horrified again when I saw Wallace as this… whatever… behaving more like an animal. It’s not often that I struggle to pin down my feelings when watching a horror film, but this one did it. I simply could not decide how to react.
While getting flashes of the Wallace creature losing it’s humanity (learning to eat and swim) we get flashes of who he was before he became the awful person we were first introduced to. We see him struggling to be the man he is with his girlfriend Ally, and the shithead he becomes with his friend Teddy. Again, it paints a very confusing pictured. Wallace seemed to be a great person who, in order to seek fame, became just downright gross. Wallace, the walrus, does not fare much better on the “humanity” scale.
Teddy and Ally begin to look for Wallace while Howard keeps training Wallace to finally kill him and let him come to terms with what he did to Mr. Tusk.
It is hard to analyze this film without spoiling it so I won’t even attempt to. Eventually, Wallace kills Howard, so to Howard’s point he is nothing more than an animal. Ally, who still loves Wallace wants to save him though and puts him in a cage. Wallace once again confronted by Ally eventually cries. It’s a moment that is a bit overdone because we get a flashback of Ally telling Wallace that she used to love him crying, but the point is there.
Wallace is not entirely lost, but not able to be saved.
So we get back to the fact that I have written more of a plot break down rather than an impressions piece because I am still struggling with this movie. It’s disgusting on so many levels, it’s a bit overdone, and yet the core message about retaining humanity is there. Something in Wallace, at the very end, is unable to completely let go.
I think that Kevin Smith tries a bit too hard to get to that point. Wallace merely crying would have done it without the flashback, but overall that is minor. The point is still there, and the point still matters. No matter what Wallace must endure there is a piece of him that will always remain human. That is both touching and heartbreaking considering the context of the film.
The film itself is also shockingly good. It is easy to dismiss. It is over the top, gross, uncomfortable, and downright horrific, but isn’t that what horror should be? Despite being one of the weirdest and most uncomfortable films I have ever seen it manages to never feel like “too much.” For a lot of people it was, but for those people, I would ask do you watch torture porn like Hostel? Tusk is raw and unforgiving, it’s also a bit of a farce and silly, yet it never manages to be so much that the overall point is lost.
If we are looking at this as a horror film, it being so gross and weird should be points to its credit and not the opposite. For some reason, this film gets panned for doing things that similar films get praised for. Tusk is a weird experience. It made me laugh when I shouldn’t have, it made me cringe, it made me tear up, it grossed me out, it shocked me, it horrified me, it made me think, it was a horror film.
In the end, I am stuck in this weird situation where I hated it so much, but I also loved it. Tusk does so much right and so much wrong, and yet in part because of that, it remains a solid horror film. It is not for the faint of heart, but it hardly deserves the shit it gets. For those with a lot of room as far as horror goes this film might just hit you as it did me. For those that are less able to handle extremes I completely understand the desire to stay away.
Either way, I think Kevin Smith managed to present not only a good look at humanity but a good look at the horror genre as well. I don’t know that I will ever be able to perfectly articulate how I feel about Tusk, but I can say that I think the dismissal of it is at least a bit unfair. It remains to date one of the horror films I most struggle with.