Somewhere at the heart of indie staple Kevin Smith’s horror debut Tusk lies a scathing takedown of toxic hipster irony the likes of which I haven’t seen since the Tim Heidecker’s starring role in The Comedy. The problem is that the film itself is just as self-indulgent & grotesquely ironic as the subject it’s supposedly lampooning. Tusk succeeds to gross-out viewers on almost a Human Centipede level of depravity in some of its bodily horror, but those moments are isolated images in a largely masturbatory genre exercise that was conceived in a conversation during an art form best known for encouraging masturbatory exercises: the podcast.
Tusk was conceived during Kevin Smith’s podcast and the film is framed in that same context, beginning with the sounds of self-indulgent laughter & aimless conversation that often sinks the likeability of the art form. The host of the program is a fatally ironic Justin Long (along with his sidekick, a disturbingly adult Haley Joel Osment), who plays the toxic hipster persona right down to the bushy walrus mustache. That mustache is an effective bit of foreshadowing, of course, because Long’s character is rewarded for his cruel radio program’s “cringe humor attack shit” (he’s like an effete Howard Stern) when he is abducted by a serial killer who intends to turn him into a humanoid walrus. Once abducted, Long is punished for his podcast’s crimes against humanity by being offered this ultimatum: “If you wish to continue living, you’ll be a walrus or you’ll be nothing at all.”
The movie’s sole effecting element is the walrus transformation, which is alternately horrifying & silly. It’s a grotesque display for sure, but despite the narrative bending over backwards to explain why a serial killer would want a human walrus named “Mr. Tusk” for a companion, it feels overwhelmingly pointless. Once Long’s walrus man apologizes for his crimes against decency in the line, “I’m sorry I’m such an asshole,” there seems to be no point for the film to continue. But, continue it does. There are long stretches of who-cares dialogue about war stories & police investigations that feel like listening to a particularly self-indulgent podcast on a subject you have no interest in. Tusk’s central conceit and bizarrely specific mode of punishment is interesting, but amounts to exactly one memorable scene: a climactic walrus fight set to Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk”. That fight is the only genuinely entertaining moment in a film prone to committing the very sins of irony, cruelty, and narcissism that it supposedly abhors. On the whole, Tusk wasn’t nearly as empty or as unwatchable as I had expected (though the monotonous police investigation sublot certainly pushed it), but it was hardly worthwhile for that two minute payoff either.