Liz Foster ’22
Bits & Pieces Editor
Decades upon decades of slashes, jump scares, and found footage have exhausted the horror genre with every gruesome shot, haunting villain, and twist and turn imaginable. Tusk, a 2014 film written and directed by comic book aficionado and podcast nerd Kevin Smith, is an innovative scare in an oversaturated market. Perhaps innovative gives the film too much credit, but Tusk grapples with a new kind of fear. Spoilers lie ahead, so proceed at your own risk.
Tusk hatched from an episode of SModcast, Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier’s over-ten-year-old podcast, where the two spitballed a story of a man hosting a guest free of charge if only he dresses as a walrus. A Twitter poll ensued and by November of 2013 Tusk had begun filming with Justin Long and Michael Parks in the starring roles. It was released the following September where it was met with generally mixed reviews from critics who were either staunchly appalled or morbidly intrigued by the film.
The film begins as any classic horror story should: with a podcast. Wallace runs a successful podcast, the tongue in cheek Not-See Party, with his buddy Teddy where the two banter over internet content to an audience—no doubt an homage to Smith’s own show. An interview with a viral star, Kill Bill kid, awaits Wallace in Canada but upon arrival, he’s greeted by the boy’s family hosting his funeral. Before he knows it, Wallace is deep in Manitoba looking for a new story when he finds Howard, a rich seaman with bizarre vibes not unlike Willem Dafoe’s Thomas Wake in The Lighthouse. Howard laments over being saved from certain death by a walrus after a sail gone wrong, drugs Wallace, and soon enough, the curious podcaster wakes up sans a left leg. One thing leads to another, the right leg is gone, and he is sewed into a walrus suit.
To say this costume is disturbing does not do it due diligence. I’ve watched all eight movies from the Saw franchise with only a hint of squeamishness and this costume had me moments from retching each time it appeared on screen. Uncanny Valley does not begin to describe the haunting image of Justin Long’s walrus body. He’s warped from a douchey podcaster to a walrusy blob of stitched up skin chunks, tusks made of leg bones, and a pair of still-human eyes. He’s Buffalo Bill if only Buffalo Bill lived in the body of an arctic mammal. Howard monologues to the walrus, forces him to learn how to swim and eat fish, and ultimately duels him in a walrus suit of his own. The movie ends with Howard being stabbed to death by Wallace’s tusks before the walrus-man is put in a wildlife reserve to waste away, perpetually hiding in a cave and left to the mercy of visitors.
Tusk is a more humorous, A24’d version of The Human Centipede if The Human Centipede was written by a guy who named his daughter Harley Quinn. The production studio has rolled out cult-favorite arthouse films that have captured a wide audience and have grown particularly popular among a demographic best described as indie kids in their twenties. Obscure and scary fits the A24 MO, but Tusk goes miles beyond what Hereditary, Midsommar, or It Comes at Night have brought to the horror table. This isn’t to say that Tusk is better than all these films; in fact, it’s nowhere near the talent of Ari Aster or Trey Edward Shults’ unnerving and enthralling spooky works. It’s a joke gone too far, but a joke you’ll want to be in on.
What Tusk offers that other horror movies do not is an immersive experience into the mind of a Manitoban madman. Though the film runs at least forty-five minutes too long, you’ll only find your attention lost during a fifteen-minute backstory from none other than Johnny Depp acting as an uber French-Canadian detective. The secret superstar cameo breathes life into the film with his quirky character, but also provides little to no valuable information with his anecdotes. Lily-Rose Depp, the actor’s IRL daughter also stars in the film, playing a gas station worker unrelated to her father’s character.
The ending is bittersweet and it remains unclear what message the audience is supposed to have gleaned from watching a deranged old man play with a walrus-man while the walrus-man’s girlfriend and best friend hunt him down with a quirky detective only to then have walrus-man live his life as a freakshow in a zoo. Is there a walrus hiding within all of us? Is podcasting a surefire path to torture? Should Americans avoid Canada at all costs? Tusk is eighty minutes and $4.99 that you’ll never get back, but you’ll be left with a dropped jaw and a queasy stomach. If winter blues have you feeling down and out, never fear, for Tusk is there to remind you, “Hey, at least you’re not a walrus!”