Tusk ***

 Is it worth $10? I don’t know

“Tusk” is the most bizarre movie I have ever seen. That’s not hyperbole – it’s the honest truth.

It’s not quite torture porn, but it goes there. It’s not entirely a dark comedy, but it has funny moments. It’s not entirely a thriller, though the atmosphere suggests it is. It’s all of these things and none of them. 

Not knowing what to make of the film is, I believe, entirely the point. Writer/director Kevin Smith’s career has run the gamut of hits (“Clerks”) and misses (“Cop Out”), and he’s spoken publicly about his disdain for the movie business. It makes sense that he’d create and self-distribute a film that subverts film industry conventionality, which states that movies are genre-classified and promoted in standardized (and therefore proven successful) ways. Using social media and core followers as his base, Smith is returning to his indie filmmaker roots, for better or worse. 

“Tusk” has a typical horror premise: Los Angeles-based podcaster Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) travels to Winnipeg to interview a loser who cut off his own leg while pretending he’s in “Kill Bill.” When that doesn’t work out, Wallace sees an ad for a man wishing to tell of his great adventures. Needing a story, and regardless of the fact that it’s a two-hour drive into the country to meet a complete stranger, Wallace goes to meet Howard Howe (Michael Parks).

Once there Wallace is taken captive, and more should not be revealed about his captivity except to say Howard has an unhealthy obsession with walruses. Up to this point you’re able to take the film seriously, but once Wallace and Howard sit at a dining room table and howl (not together, but at the same time), you know you’ve entered the theater of the absurd. 

Still, serious things happen after that to offset the dark silliness. Wallace’s girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) and podcast partner (Haley Joel Osment, yes, the kid from “The Sixth Sense,” now pudgy) set out to find Wallace, and they enlist the help of a local inspector (an unrecognizable Johnny Depp) to help them do so. Smith’s script and direction are also sharp enough to utilize flashbacks to the days prior to Wallace’s trip, all of which nicely accentuates the action in the present.

If you’re averse to torture porn, I don’t blame you. So am I. Trust me, it’s not a factor here. Although there is torture and it’s often unsettling, nothing graphic is shown. Plus, you may very well be laughing when the scenes are over. 

As I write this – about an hour after the film ended – I still have no idea what to make of it. Because I cannot render a qualitative good/bad analysis, protocol dictates (per Roger Ebert) that I write about how the movie made me feel. One word keeps coming to mind: Unnerved. I squirmed in my seat. I laughed uncomfortably. I listened attentively as others laughed and groaned at the same scene, sometimes simultaneously. Because I can’t stop thinking about it, and because there’s so much to dissect, I have to recommend it. Good luck trying to forget it, even if you want to. 

Did you know?

The idea for the movie was born during a Kevin Smith “Smodcast” called “The Walrus and The Carpenter.” 

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