Sometimes a filmmaker’s greatest asset is being grossly underestimated, allowing audiences to be fully taken by surprise by a uniquely twisted and gruesomely funny experience like Tusk. Or they just might “fucking hate it,” as Kevin Smith, the film’s director, so lightly put it.
Last year Smith and oft collaborator Scott Mosier featured a Craigslist ad on their Smodcast written by a man who was willing to provide free room and board to any individual who would listen to his stories while wearing a walrus suit. Smith beckoned his Twitter followers to vote #WalrusYes or #WalrusNo whether or not he should write a screenplay based on the ad.
In Tusk, Justin Long is cast against type and plays Wally, a comedian and podcaster who is annoyingly full of himself (as we fear most podcasters to be). Even more egregiously, he has lost touch with his humanity in order to feed his dickish public persona. He travels to Canada in search of a story lead that turns out to be literally dead and instead, while taking the longest piss of his life, reads a bathroom ad by a one-time seafarer seeking a captive listener to his many past travails. The recluse Howard Howe, played with exacting psychosis by Michael Parks, lives in rural Manitoba and is intent on reconstructing a particularly poignant memory centered around a loving, tender creature who accompanied him while marooned: a walrus.
Tusk is hilarious, weird, absolutely original, and deliciously macabre. It has all the polish of a studio film, thanks largely to cinematographer James Laxton, but contains the feel and tone of a depraved midnight movie. The film has touches of Boxing Helena, The Human Centipede and during some of its broad moments felt like a modern take on vintage no-budget horror movies like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. It’s a perfect fit for those who like gore that doesn’t take itself too seriously. If you’re looking for your run of the mill horror movie, this is not for you.
For Smith, it’s proof of a director who is maturing (as much as Smith can) with a strong understanding and dominion of genre, in this case horror and comedy, and an ability to move freely between each, thereby blurring the lines between them. There are certainly unpredictable twists and turns to the story, but its larger merit is how elicits a variety of emotions all at once: from fear to amusement to nausea (feamusa?).
The performances are primarily responsible for this anagram. It’s clear that Smith is not trying quite as hard as he has in the past and is more focused on character than concept. He allows the actors to flow, to think and feel out loud, and tell their stories. The result is a series of monologues throughout the film that, given the conceit, are interesting to watch in and of themselves in addition to being compelling due to the rich portrayal of each actor.
Tusk is hilarious, weird, absolutely original, and deliciously macabre.
Besides Michael Parks, whose croaky and quivering voice chills the spine, and Justin Long’s smarmy assholeness, Johnny Depp shows up fashionably and magnificently late to the tale playing a drunken, cross-eyed French gumshoe whose investigative skills are basically premonitions. At the heart of the film is Genesis Rodriguez who plays Ally, Wally’s neglected girlfriend, who innocently hopes Wally can once again be the sweet and dorky dude he used to be.
Rodriguez has been managing to carve a path for herself in Babylon by aptly choosing and locking into great roles in films like Casa de Mi Padre and Identity Thief. The daughter of Venezuelan singer Jose Luis Rogriguez ‘El Puma,’ skillfully carries the tender side of Tusk with scenes that are emotionally demanding and require an actress who can play the game of comedy with serious dedication and professionalism.
We got the opportunity to chat with Genesis about what it was like to work on such a bizarre movie, helmed by one of the nicest guys she’s ever known.
I had such a great time at the movie.
Genesis: Really? We didn’t traumatize you? [laughs]
No, not at all! I loved it.
Genesis: I’m so happy to hear that!
So what was going through your mind as you were reading the script for the first time?
This is about a woman who finds out her boyfriend is in danger so she goes to look for him.
Genesis: I could not believe what I was reading. It was so delicious in writing and dialogue, and I immediately realized this is an actor’s movie — this is not just a horror movie. If anyone tells you, “Oh, this is a movie about a guy who turns into a walrus,” you’d never read it. But you see that it’s Kevin Smith directing and writing and that grabs your attention. I read it at night and I couldn’t fall asleep. I became obsessed with this walrus idea. I was like, I need to be a part of this f*%#ing movie and I started writing emails at like 5 o’clock in the morning, after I had heard the podcast, after I had heard [Fleetwood Mac’s] “Tusk” and [The Beatles’] “I am the Walrus” on repeat. I was obsessed. And somehow that email that I sent to my manager at five o’clock in the morning got forwarded to Kevin and I was given the part.
You provide the emotional axis of the film. We fall in love with Wally because you love him. Otherwise he’s just a horrible person. How did you frame the character for yourself?
Genesis: The film takes you in so many different directions that my character’s job is to be the grounding anchor of the movie, and I think Haley [Joel Osment] does that, too. We tried to play it as real as possible. This is about a woman who finds out her boyfriend is in danger so she goes to look for him. There are bizarre things that happen but you have to keep it real; the stakes are actually very high. So that’s kind of what I was going for and it plays out — you have a little bit of everything. You have the horror, you have the comedy, you have the drama. And it just works in a weird way.
One of the most striking scenes in the film is when you’re looking at us, straight through the lens, and giving us your monologue. It seemed like a very demanding scene.
Genesis: It’s super demanding for an actor to have that big of a monologue. It’s something you study weeks and you process, but that monologue was given to me on the day. It was written so well, it was so poetic and romantic and deep, I just wanted to do Kevin justice. I needed to nail it. And I was so nervous because I’ve never done anything like that before — I never had the opportunity. Kevin was very sweet about it. He was like, “Gen if it works, we keep it in the movie, if it doesn’t work, we throw it out. Don’t worry about it. Have fun.” And I was like, “Okay!” And it was weird because it was the last thing of the day so the grips were picking up the lights and the cables and whatnot, and all of a sudden I start talking and these guys are just crowding around the monitor watching. The camera operator that day, he couldn’t look at me the next day. He goes, “I feel like you bared your soul to me.” And I was like, “Dude, I was acting.”
It was the best time I’ve ever had on a movie set, without a doubt.
You also did Casa de mi Padre. Is comedy a direction you’re interested in going in?
Genesis: It’s always fun to do this type of movie. I don’t know. I’m not limiting myself — I’m just trying to do different characters. I never thought I was going to do a horror movie, though. I’m such a scaredy cat! It’s just pretty cool that a great character came into my hands and you know, that I had a chance to do this crazy little film.
The whole production sounds like a recipe for fun times. Are there any anecdotes or any stories, behind the scenes moments that you can tell us about?
Genesis: We had the best time. You’re not wrong. We were laughing all day — just having a blast. Haley and I went to karaoke. We were always hanging out. Every single night we went out to dinner. It was a short shoot so we kinda wanted to spend time with each other. And if you ever get to meet these guys, they’re the best guys you could know. They’re just so funny, so smart, and articulate. You just want to spend time with them. It was the best time I’ve ever had on a movie set, without a doubt.
Tusk opens in theaters nationwide on September 19, 2014.