Tusk Vs. Red State: A Comparative Study

I loved An Evening With Kevin Smith. The guy is smart, funny, and tells a good story. That show in fact prompted me to check out some of his movies in the first place. But Kevin Smith also baffles me. It has to do with his horror range. For example, at one end, Tusk, a horror-comedy at best. At the other, Red State, about which not one damn thing is funny.

On one hand, I get it. Tusk is supposed to be absurd. I’ve heard the stoned conversation on Kevin Smith’s SModcast where he and his cohost are laughing uncontrollably about the entire concept of the movie and the idea of the protagonist having to go “full walrus.” I also understand that I’m criticizing Tusk for not acting like the kind of movie it clearly wasn’t meant to be.

Still, my problem is an issue that can doom any horror movie: believability. Not plausibility. Believability. Zombies, werewolves, vampires, stitching a body together from pieces and bringing it to life, much happens in horror that’s not plausible. But in the context of the world of the story, all those things are believable.

Suspension of disbelief, however, is an easy spell to break. For example, I’m willing to set aside the implausibility of surgically creating a human-walrus hybrid (a sentence I can’t believe I just typed). But the process would have taken weeks if not months of recovery from every single surgery. This doesn’t happen in Tusk. The entire transformation takes, at most, a matter of weeks. Spell broken.

So the horror aspect of Tusk doesn’t hold up despite the unhinged creepiness of Michael Parks. But neither does the comedy which is merely a setup for a single big punchline that ends up not being very funny. Horror-comedy is a tough line to walk. At some point there has to be at least one, again, believable threat. The killer in Tucker And Dale Vs. Evil does this. So do the aunties and cousin Jonathan in Arsenic And Old Lace.

In both of those movies, the gags are mainly situational and based on dramatic irony created through misdirection, misinterpretation, misunderstanding, and miscommunication (or lack of and obstacles to communication). Tusk does none of this, and could have. What humor there is comes from Johnny Depp’s Clouseau caricature and not from the protagonist’s situation.

Then there’s Red State. What’s most chilling about it is that I know these people. We all do. In my case, I even grew up around, went to college with, and now teach some of them.

Little backstory, in my regular, bill-paying life, I’m a college English professor. One of the classes I teach is Mythology. On the very first day, one of the first things I say is that, “In this class, all religions and mythologies are equal. One person’s religion is another person’s mythology. No belief system in this class carries any more ‘truth’ or weight than any other.”

Yet some folks still insist on being shocked when I lay into Levitical law, the rabid contradictions of the Old Testament, Jesus/Osiris/Mithras parallels, or the replication of flood myths from Gilgamesh to Hesiod to Genesis to the Qur’an.

I mean, I warned them.

On its most obvious level, the Five Points Trinity Church is the Westboro Baptist Church with a stockpile of weapons and ammo. As Abin Cooper, Parks is, again, unnerving, but his daughter, Sarah (Melissa Leo) may be even more so. Her rapt devotion to Abin when she says, “Give us some knowledge, Daddy” is chilling.

Points to Smith for putting three dudes in the situation of having their drinks drugged. Big points as well for his Romero-like treatment of inept local and government law enforcement. The only agent who knows what he’s doing is John Goodman’s character, Joseph Keenan.

If there’s any place where believability flags just a little, it’s the end. See, Red State is already a horror movie, but the current political climate makes it particularly unnerving in the same way it turned Elysium from pretty okay sci-fi to sociopolitical horror (more on that here).

On one hand, I’m again willing to set aside the idea that Cooper’s family really believes the sound they hear is the trumpeting set forth in Revelation. When I first saw Red State, I thought, “No. Nobody’s really that stupid.”

Last fall I was at a Tractor Supply (why is another tale altogether). What with the sea of 4x4s, trump stickers and signs, confederate flags, and open carry nitwits, it hit me, “Shit. He really is gonna win.” Last week I watched Red State again for this review.

This time I thought, “Oh… shit.”

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