Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
Film review by: Witney Seibold
We’re all familiar with the scene: a team of fun-loving college-age kids pull up to a horrid, disused-looking gas station out in the boonies, on their way to a delightful weekend of drink, drug and sexual debauchery. The ask for directions, and perhaps stock up on some last-minute supplies. The owner of the gas station is a weird, creepy, sun-cracked maniac hillbilly who leans portentously on a chainsaw, or perhaps a severed animal head, and mutters some vague warning about how that campground is no good for them. The college kids cautiously back away, and, rather than heeding the warning (that should have been taught to them by dozens of killer hillbilly movies, starting, probably, with “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”), get back in their cars, and drive to the campground where they do drink, do have sex, and inevitably get slaughtered wholesale by the hillbilly and their kin.
Eli Craig‘s new film “Tuck & Dale vs. Evil” takes that scene, but spins it to be told from the perspective of the hillbillies. WE get to know the dangerous hicks, and what their motivations are, and, as it turns out, the hillbillies are actually really decent and kind fellers who just want to enjoy a weekend of fishing, fixing up their new vacation home, and drinking beers. Why the creepy warning to the kids? Well, it turns out that Dale (Tyler Labine) was just trying to chat up one of the pretty girls, and is so socially awkward, that his giggles sound maniacal. Why is he holding a scythe? Well, he’s a workman, and he just forgot to put down one of his tools. Why does the friendly and funny Tucker (Alan Tudyk) sound like a mutated maniac? Well, he just fell into a nest of bees by accident. And when someone dies near them? Well, shoot that was just an accident.
This is a brilliant comic premise. It’s a satire of conventions without a skosh of that obnoxious self-aware irony that seems to infect most comedies (and indeed a lot of films) these days. It’s just a matter of perspective. What look like dangerous hillbillies in another film are actually poor, victimized, well-loved morons who would rather go fishing than hurt anyone. In another film, the brave college hero (Jesse Moss) is, in this film, depicted as a fratboy asshole with an unexplained bloodlust. There’s also a damsel in distress, in the form of the pretty, midriff-baring Alli (Katrina Bowden), who is actually fond of the teddy-bear-like Dale, and was never once in danger. She’s actually pretty smart (she in school to be a psychologist). And there’s a funny scene in which she tries to sit the characters down, and have them talk out their differences, right when the violence should be ratcheting up.
In a lot of horror films, most particularly anything that has been released since “Scream” in 1996, there have been scenes of characters openly discussing horror movie conventions, while they themselves are in a horror movie-like situation. “Tucker & Dale vs. Evil,” is not that ambitious, and thank goodness. Rather than trying to explode conventions, tear down the familiar tropes, and assure the audience that they’re hip enough to see the cliches, the filmmakers were content to make a solid comedy film with a strong premise, good, funny actors, and more than a little bit of wit. What’s more, they don’t allow the horror portions of the film to unduly cover any established comedy. And while there is a scene where Tucker is kidnapped and hurt, the on-screen violence, however gory, comes across as slapstick. Its one of those rare films that manages to actually blend horror and comedy correctly.
The weight of the film rests mostly on the shoulders of the two title characters, though, and we were lucky to have such good actors in the roles. As Dale, Labine does come across as a lovable doofus, but still looks like an extra from Texas Chainsaw. You do see his pure motivations, and buy that he’s a pussycat who doesn’t even like hurting fish. Tucker is equally doofy, and clearly the brains of the outfit, and, in the role, Tudyk proves, (once again; he was the best part of both “Death at a Funeral” and the horrid “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”), that he is a stellar comic actor with a talent for timing and broad character work.
This film is slowly creeping its way across the country, and will likely make it to your city at some point. Try to see it in the theater if you can. A little genre film like this is the kid that is often overlooked, and could use some support.