Tusk is a 2014 American comedy horror film written and directed by Kevin Smith, based on a story from his SModcast podcast. The film stars Michael Parks, Justin Long, Haley Joel Osment, Genesis Rodriguez, and Johnny Depp. The film is intended to be the first in Smith's planned True North trilogy.
Tusk had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, before it was released on September 19, 2014, by A24. The film was Smith's first major wide release since Cop Out, and performed poorly at the box office after receiving mixed reviews.
Best friends Wallace Bryton and Teddy Craft host the popular podcast The Not-See Party, where they find and mock humiliating viral videos. Wallace announces plans to fly to Canada to interview the "Kill Bill" Kid, an Internet celebrity famous for severing his leg with a samurai sword. In flashbacks spread throughout the film, it is revealed that Wallace was originally a failed stand-up comic who became popular with his increasingly vicious podcasts, and that he frequently cheats on his girlfriend, Ally.
Upon arriving in Manitoba, Wallace is surprised to learn that the Kill Bill Kid committed suicide. Upset that he flew to Canada for nothing, Wallace decides to stay an extra day and find another person to interview. He finds a handbill from someone offering a room in his home for free and the guarantee of hearing a lifetime of interesting stories. His interest piqued, Wallace arrives at the mansion of Howard Howe, a retired seaman in a wheelchair. Howard tells the story of how a walrus, whom he named Mr. Tusk, rescued him after a shipwreck. Wallace then passes out from the secobarbital laced in his tea that Howard made for him.
The next morning, Wallace wakes up to find himself strapped into a wheelchair and his left leg amputated. Howard tells him he was bitten by a brown recluse spider and a local doctor had to amputate it to save Wallace's life. Howard not only reveals that he can still walk, but lays out his plans for Wallace: he plans to fit Wallace into a perfectly constructed walrus costume. Wallace's attempts to contact Teddy and Ally fail when neither answer their phone. It is then revealed that Ally and Teddy are in fact lovers. Wallace leaves Ally a voicemail apologizing for how he treated her, and Howard knocks him unconscious.
Now aware that Wallace is in danger, Ally and Teddy fly to Canada to look for him. Back at the mansion, Howard continues to mutilate and alter Wallace, to whom he tells his backstory: a Duplessis orphan, he was sexually abused for years by the clergy who fostered him. He sews Wallace into a walrus costume made of human skin, complete with tusks made of the tibia bones from Wallace's severed legs.
A local detective puts Ally and Teddy in touch with Guy LaPointe, a former Sûreté du Québec inspector who has been hunting Howard for years. LaPointe reveals that Howard, nicknamed “The First Wife", has been kidnapping and murdering people for years; he says he believes Wallace may still be alive, but not as they remember him. They eventually find Howard's address through two convenience store clerks, whom Wallace had annoyed earlier.
By now, Wallace’s psyche has been completely broken and has been conditioned to think and behave like a walrus. Howard reveals that his obsession with walruses comes from killing and eating Mr. Tusk six months after living on the island, although a rescue boat arrived soon after. For the past 15 years, he has attempted to turn his victims into his beloved savior in order to relive their last day and give Mr. Tusk another chance at survival. Dressed in his own homemade pelt, Howard engages in a fight with Wallace that ends with Wallace angrily impaling Howard's chest with his tusks; Howard dies, his mission fulfilled at last. Ally and Teddy enter the enclave as Wallace bellows victoriously, much to their horror. LaPointe later enters the room and reluctantly aims a shotgun at Wallace.
One year later, Wallace, still sewn into the pelt, lives in a wildlife sanctuary. Ally and Teddy visit him and feed him a mackerel. Ally remembers a discussion she had with Wallace the day before he left for Canada about how crying separates humans from animals, because crying shows that you have a soul. Ally tells Wallace she still loves him before walking off crying. Tears run down Wallace's face as he bellows, implying that the human part of Wallace may not be completely gone.
The idea for the film came during the recording of SModcast 259 The Walrus and The Carpenter. In the episode, Smith with his longtime friend and producer Scott Mosier discussed an article featuring a Gumtree ad where a homeowner was offering a living situation free of charge, if the lodger agrees to dress as a walrus. The discussion went on from there, resulting in almost an hour of the episode being spent on reconstructing and telling a hypothetical story based on the ad. Smith then told his Twitter followers to tweet "#WalrusYes" if they wanted to see their hypothetical turned into a film, or "#WalrusNo" if they did not. A vast majority of Smith's following agreed that the film should be made. The post on Gumtree was in fact a prank post by noted Brighton poet and prankster Chris Parkinson, who upon hearing of the planned film said he was a big fan of Smith and that he would love to be involved. Smith eventually hired Parkinson as an associate producer in November.
Smith wrote the 80-page screenplay while waiting for Bob Weinstein's approval of his Clerks III submission package. It was originally titled The Walrus & the Carpenter, but he changed it into a single-word title, saying he "knew what a movie about a walrus had to be called." The film is set in Bifrost, Manitoba. The movie was originally going to be produced by Blumhouse, but due to Smith's expedited timeline for filming the two amicably parted ways. Tusk was eventually financed by Demarest Films. Smith had planned on premiering the film at Sundance 2014, but this was later changed to allow more time for the score to be completed.
Smith was excited about making Tusk, saying "I wanted to right what I felt was the only wrong of Red State by scripting something with no religious or sexual politics that could grow up to be a weird little movie and not an indie film call-to-arms or a frustrated self-distribution manifesto. I just wanted to showcase Michael Parks in a fucked up story, where he could recite some Lewis Carroll and "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" to some poor motherfucker sewn into a realistic walrus costume." Unlike Smith's previous film Red State, Tusk had a conventional theater release, with distribution handled by A24.
The project began pre-production in September 2013. Principal photography began on November 4, 2013, and wrapped on November 22, 2013. The starting date was delayed from September to October then to November due to the filming location moving from Canada to North Carolina. An additional two days of filming occurred in Los Angeles for scenes involving Depp's character Guy LaPointe. Smith originally considered Quentin Tarantino to play LaPointe after seeing his appearance in Django Unchained but Tarantino said he had no interest in acting at the moment.
Tusk had its world premiere on September 6, 2014 at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, where it was screened as part of Midnight Madness. It was named the first runner-up to the Midnight Madness People's Choice Award. before receiving a theatrical release on September 19, 2014.
The film was released on September 19, 2014 and was declared a box office bomb, earning only $846,831 from over 602 screens during its opening weekend, debuting in fourteenth place at the box office. At the end of its run, on November 13, the film had grossed $1,826,705 in the domestic box office and $21,612 overseas for a worldwide total of $1,848,317.
Tusk was met with mixed reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a rating of 41%, based on 113 reviews, with an average rating of 5.4/10. The site's summary reads, "Tusk is pleasantly ridiculous and charmingly self-deprecating, but that isn't enough to compensate for its thin, overstretched story." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 55 out of 100, based on 33 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews."
In his review for The Seattle Times, Erik Lundegaard gave the film zero out of four stars, stating, "Tusk, which is based on one of Smith's own podcasts, is the most disgusting and pointless movie I've seen. Emphasis on pointless. I spent half the movie sick to my stomach." William Bibbiani, writing for CraveOnline, criticized the film's failed humor and excessive runtime and said that the film "killed irony", awarding it two out of ten stars, while Glenn Dunks of Junkee.com gave the film an F and called it the worst movie of 2014.
Conversely, Chris Bumbray of JoBlo.com had a positive reaction, calling Tusk "a major return to form for Smith, and an exciting new chapter in a career that now feels totally reinvigorated." Roth Cornet from IGN gave the film eight out of ten and stated "Funny, strange, disquieting, and occasionally gory, Tusk is Kevin Smith at his best." Richard Roeper also gave Tusk a positive review, writing, "I'm recommending Kevin Smith’s uniquely twisted 'Tusk', but there's a part of me that wishes I could un-see it. Over the last 15 years I've seen thousands of movies, and I can count on one hand the number of times I've actually closed my eyes during a screening because I needed a quick three-second break.". Clint O'Connor of The Plain Dealer noted that while Tusk skillfully combines various genres, the story would be better presented as a short film. According to O'Connor, the character of Guy Lapointe was named after the famous hockey player.
Smith revealed before the release of Tusk that he had written a spin-off film called Yoga Hosers, which would feature the cast from Tusk. On August 19, 2014, Borys Kit from The Hollywood Reporter revealed further details about the film. Yoga Hosers will be an action-adventure film and the second in the True North trilogy. As well as the rest of the entire cast of Tusk (except Michael Parks), the film will star Depp's daughter, Lily-Rose, and Smith's daughter, Harley Quinn. Tony Hale, Natasha Lyonne, Austin Butler, Adam Brody, Tyler Posey, and Jason Mewes have also been cast.
The third installment of Smith's True North trilogy is to be titled Moose Jaws, which Smith says is basically "Jaws with a moose". Starstream Entertainment will finance and produce the film, while XYZ Films will sell the foreign rights at the Toronto Film Festival.
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