Too bad about the ending.
I'll begin with the ending. I don't like it.
Of course I won't reveal any substantial details of the conclusion to Tusk, the horror-comedy film written and directed by Kevin Smith. I will say that I had developed mixed feelings by the time the finale rolled around, and my unhappiness with it tips this review into pan territory. But there are facets of the movie that I admire. The ending concerns me because it isn't consistent with the rest of the film, which, even with its macabre elements, takes place in a world I recognize. Specifically, the coda outlandishly upends norms regarding what happens to victims of violent crime, I guess in the service of comedy. But the film's comedic aspects aren't as strong as its horror ones, so this conclusion seems ill-advised.
Tusk centers on a smarmy podcaster named Wallace (Justin Long). With cohost Teddy (Haley Joel Osment), Wallace deals in snark. They direct it at unwitting Internet stars, the kind of people who guilelessly post embarrassing clips of themselves on YouTube and, for their trouble, are subjected to withering mockery. This is zesty material for satire, and Smith, a veteran podcaster himself, says a lot about our appetite for cruelty when he reveals that Wallace floundered as a standup comedian before he started his successful show.
Wallace travels to Winnipeg for a revolting assignment. It doesn't pan out, for a distressing reason, and Wallace is disappointed until he sees a man's handwritten flyer advertising a job opening. Intrigued by what appears to be a colorful interview subject, Wallace contacts the man (Michael Parks) and arranges to visit his creepy mansion. Parks is terrific as Howard Howe, whose sociopathic tendencies at first register as mere eccentricity. Before long, Wallace is trapped at the house, and Howe reveals himself to be a diabolical villain. He mutilates Wallace in ways I won't describe, except to say that they reflect Howe's seafaring past, and his fondness for a certain large marine mammal.
The early scenes at the mansion are the best in the movie, atmospheric and suspenseful. I also applaud the visual effects related to Wallace's transformation, which are suitably disgusting. But my interest began to wane halfway through, as Teddy and Wallace's girlfriend, Ally (Genesis Rodriguez), set off to find the missing podcaster. They join forces with a disgraced detective named Guy Lapointe, who has been pursuing Howe on his own.
Lapointe is played by Johnny Depp, in another committed performance as a goofy grotesque. Most of the film's comedy stems from Depp's work, and that's a problem. Depp's character seems to have wandered in from another movie, a farcical one, and his scenery-chewing undoes what could have been a focused, scary thriller. That's a pity.