Kevin Smith ought to stop it with the Canadian-centric films. Because this one is pretty damn rough.
Holidays. 2016. Directed by Anthony Scott Burns, Kevin Kölsch, Nicholas McCarthy, Adam Egypt Mortimer, Gary Shore, Kevin Smith, Sarah Adina Smith, Scott Stewart, & Dennis Widmyer. Screenplay by Burns, Kölsch, McCarthy, Shore, Kevin Smith, Sarah Adina Smith, Stewart, Widmyer, & Matt Johnson.
Starring Kevin Smith, Lorenza Izzo, Seth Green, Clare Grant, Michael Gross, Andrew Bowen, Ruth Bradley, Michael Sun Lee, Ava Acres, Jocelin Donahue, Harley Morenstein, Kate Rachesky, Jennifer Lafleur, Mark Steger, Scott Stewart, Peter Campion, Matt Johnson, Sophie Traub, Megan Duffy, & Shawn Parsons. ArtCastle Productions/Distant Corners Entertainment Group/XYZ Films.
Unrated. 105 minutes.
Anthologies can often end up a mixed bag of tricks simply because of numbers. When you put a bunch of filmmakers, albeit doing their own respective short films, into one container, there isn’t always a good flow. For instance, I thought V/H/S was a lot of fun, whereas the second installment of the series felt more varied in its quality. Then there’s Southbound, which was nearly perfect. Similar to that is the (duh) holiday-themed Holidays. With a slew of directors and writers, as well as a cast that contains several well-known and relatively new faces, this anthology tackles Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Mother’s & Father’s Day, Halloween, Christmas, and of course New Years Eve. Holidays does away with any notion of sentimentality or Hallmark movie moments. Gone are the strictly comedic adventures of the Griswold family. Nowhere will you find any cute renditions of holidays turned into romantic comedy fodder. This isn’t even a creepy Santa Claus horror flick. These directors and writers take us into the heart of any fear possibly associated with the holiday seasons, from getting that last gift on the shelf for your boy or girl, to unrequited high school love, to motherhood, and so much more.
Prepare to get dark.
Oh, and happy holidays.
The first segment of Holidays is disturbing, top to bottom. Yet at the same time there is a tender element, if only brief and fleeting. A forbidden love story, sort of. A coming of age tale. Truthfully, one of the girls in it really annoyed me; her bullying was spot on, just so damn irritating. But it works, her character is truly terrible. The style of this segment is so retro and also modern. Little dreamy bits make their way into the plot, as Maxine (Madeleine Coghlan) falls deeper into her own imagination; I didn’t even have to know beforehand that Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer directed this segment (they did the fantastic Starry Eyes). Their style of directing is unique, as much as it is awesome. This Valentine’s Day short is gruesome, disturbing, uneasy. A nice way to kick the whole thing off. There’s not even much explicit nastiness, aside from the very end, and still it manages to get savage.
Next up is the St. Patrick’s Day short from Gary Shore, director of Dracula Untold. While that movie was mostly a big load of shite save a few moments, Shore does a fun job with this segment. The focus here is on a school teacher. She looks after the young children in her class, one of whom – a little ginger haired girl – is a bit creepy. Over a couple weeks things start to deteriorate for the teacher, as she has strange dreams, as well as deals with the ever weird behaviour of her little redheaded student. Although I could begin to understand where this was headed, Shore does a great job at making this a highly unnerving little short. The whole thing just made my skin crawl and really took me by surprise. Usually relegated to Leprechaun when St. Paddy’s creeps around each year, I only wish this were a longer bit of work. It’s darkly comic at times, creepy, even downright frightening, spectacularly weird. I hope Shore goes on to do some longer bits of horror, other than big Hollywood fluff like his first feature. His horror chops are strong and sharp here.
Nicholas McCarthy personally wowed me with both his first two feature films, The Pact and At the Devil’s Door – two great little indie horror flicks. His Easter segment is dark and mysterious. It takes a great dig into the foolish holiday, as the little girl questions her mother about what Easter is all about – why eggs and a bunny when it’s supposedly about Jesus? Well, her mother doesn’t know either. When the Easter Bunny arrives – and he does arrive – it is the most horrific depiction of the creature you could manage to conjure up. The fact McCarthy even thought to do what he’s done here is outrageously impressive to me. Honestly, quite possibly the single scariest creature out of any horror film I’ve ever seen with my two eyes. There are some good ones out there, some great ones. This Bunny is right at the top of the heap. Plus, McCarthy turns the concept of the Easter Bunny (and other such figures) into something out of a nightmare, especially with what happens after the little girl is the first child to ever see him. Uh oh.
An interesting Mother’s Day segment comes from Sarah Adina Smith, director of last year’s The Midnight Swim. A young lady is pregnant, having already terminated several pregnancies, and does not know where to turn next; every time she has sex, she gets pregnant. Every damn time. The latest doctor tips her off to some fertility ceremonies out in the desert, so off she goes with hopes of finding an answer somewhere. Everything devolves into utter madness after she takes drugs – a.k.a medicine – at the fertility spa, discovering that each pregnancy, each abortion only makes the life growing inside her stronger. But there’s more than just a bit of hippie bullshit going on at this spa. And before they all know it, the pregnancy’s become something altogether other from a child in her belly. The whole thing is eerie and suspenseful before coming to a wild end. I could have used a little more, honestly. Overall, though, Smith does a good job making her short memorably unsettling.
From mothers, we move to Father’s Day directed by Anthony Scott Burns (Darknet), whose best work I know of is on the fabulous indie The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh. Here, he crafts a spooky short which begins with a young woman named Carol (Jocelin Donahue; The House of the Devil) opening a gift, a tape recorded by her father. What follows is a chillingly tense journey towards a reunion. Along the way, the sound design, the score, the steady tracking shots, the beautiful wide angles, it all winds us up for a super haunting end. Kept me on edge and paid off without having to go too over the top.
Kevin Smith’s Halloween – Hollow Ian, as he puts it – takes us inside a little webcam porno operation, led by Epic Meal Time star Harley Morenstein, as well as Harley Quinn Smith. The whole thing is fairly dreadful, in the right way. Behind everything is a subtle, rattling score that begins as a low piano piece then grows into something more brutal, more sinister. We’re eventually given over to a thriller that gives three young cam girls their long due revenge over a tyrannical, misogynistic boss whose treatment is far less than equal or any bit good. Love how the revenge starts off sort of comical, then escalates into more brutal, nasty, low end stuff. Smith’s writing here is both funny at times, specifically Morenstein’s character at first in his predicament and the girls all around, as well as filled with depravity. I want Smith to give up everything else and continue making horror films because he has a unique, fun voice that brings something interesting to the table.
Director-writer Scott Stewart takes us next into his deep, dark vision of Christmas. It’s a very human drama at the start mixed in with horror, as Seth Green plays a desperate husband and father, willing to do something terribly unfortunate to make sure he gets the last of a special Christmas gift in stores for his son. What’s most interesting is how the gift itself plays into the father’s situation. This could’ve easily remained a dark psychological thriller, but opted rather to explore an almost science fiction type plot that made things exciting and turned into an altogether different piece of work halfway through. This one kept me guessing, it also had lots of dark comedy to make things ride along well.
Finally, New Years Eve rolls around, directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer, who did the vicious little horror Some Kind of Hate. This vision of December 31st is psychotic, nasty. Lorenza Izzo and Andrew Bowen star as Jean and Reggie – two people who meet online for a first date out at a restaurant, only we know that Reggie has recently shot another woman in the head. Hmm. Well, this is one of those cases such as Alfred Hitchcock would’ve liked, or done similarly in his own films, because we’re given that bomb, shown upfront the danger, and now we’ve only got to wait until it explodes. So the suspense and tension coils around us seeing Reggie with Jean, even worse after she invites him back to her place, then everything gets vastly more creepy. Problem is Reggie’s underestimated the situation and never could’ve prepared himself for meeting a girl like Jean. LOVE LOVE LOVE the writing in this little short. So brutal and macabre and just so much damn fun! After things really break loose there are a few moments of blood and gore that pay things off magically, even with a New Years Eve countdown on the television behind the chaos. Also, can never get enough of Izzo, whose presence is always thrilling in some way.
Overall, a 4&1/2-star anthology. This one is up there for me with some of the V/H/S stuff, as well as the recent, amazing experience that was Southbound. The use of all the holidays in unique ways, the terrifying bits and pieces of each segment, the writing, the directing, the acting, the practical makeup effects in many of the segments, it is all so joyfully executed. You can tell when an anthology feels forced, as if none of the work belongs together in one frame. However, Holidays fits together in such an oddly appropriate way. The segments flow from one to the next keeping you off balance. Indulge yourselves. This is available now on VOD platforms, and soon will see a limited release. Watch this, support these filmmakers. Because the smaller indie productions are where all the good stuff is happening. If we keep supporting independent work, hopefully this will keep lots of smaller horror (and genre) pictures alive.
Tusk. 2014. Directed & Written by Kevin Smith.
Starring Michael Parks, Justin Long, Genesis Rodriguez, Haley Joel Osment, and Johnny Depp. Sony Pictures Releasing Canada.
Rated 14A. 102 minutes.
First of all, a lot of people seem to misunderstand Tusk as a film overall. It’s meant, above all else, as a comedy and a drama. Yes, there is horror, and it is a horror film, but the comedy and drama trump everything. Just a little over halfway through the movie, things get divisive because a lot of people think it gets ridiculous, or silly, or whatever.
Me – well, I think differently.
Second, I just love the premise of this movie. Kevin Smith is not particularly one of my favourites, though, I really love Clerks (the first one – I don’t dig the second so much), Mallrats, Dogma, and Red State a lot. His move into a bit of horror while still holding onto the comedy roots he works so well with really is spectacular. Red State was a lot of fun, and I’ve re-watched it a bunch of times since the first; for me, it holds up time after time.
The story of Tusk follows Wallace Bryton (Long), a rising podcast star, who interviews weird and wild people everywhere; he travels to different locations, interviews different characters, and then retells his experiences for Teddy Craft (Osment) who never travels. There emerges a side story involving Wallace’s girlfriend Ally; the two share a bit of a rocky relationship, as we see both Wallace’s infidelity, as well as Ally’s eventual, secret at first, indiscretions, too. Wallace goes up to Canada to interview the Kill Bill Kid – a young man who chopped off his own leg with a sword accidentally – but once he arrives in Winnipeg, he discovers the kid has taken his own life, and the story is quite literally now dead.
Unfairly pissed, Wallace heads to a bar before moving on home. In the bathroom he discovers a wanted ad: an old man, once an adventurer at sea, has a room for rent, and stories to tell. Out in the woods of Manitoba, Wallace finds Howard Howe in a beautiful, sprawling estate type home. Howe seems just a little eccentric at first telling stories of being at sea, meeting Ernest Hemingway (even claiming one of old Ernie’s most famous quotes about drinking was first quoted to him personally), however, soon enough it’s really damn clear the old man doesn’t just want company. He misses an old friend, and Howe is determined to bring him back by any means necessary.
Once Wallace goes missing, Ally and Teddy wake up to a frantic voicemail he left them both; he claims Howe has kidnapped him, and wants to turn him into a walrus. Worried, they seek out the police, who are of course sceptical (I spell it that way ’cause I’m Canadian, eh). They then meet a man named Guy Lapointe (played hilariously by Johnny Depp). He has been hunting a serial killer across Canada, and it turns out this is most likely Howe. They join together hoping to track down and save Wallace.
A lot of people have trouble with the way Tusk shifts gears between horror to drama to comedy, and back, and forth. I don’t necessarily see the problem. If either of these genres were being inappropriately served up, then I would understand, but to my mind it’s all carried out pretty well. The horror works. Some may say the “transformation” is silly. I understand. I mean, the comedy of Long’s “transformation” is not lost on Smith – he knows it looks a bit funny. Aside from the initial laugh it might get, the “transformation” (I say that because I don’t want to outright describe anything and give it away) is pretty fucking disturbing. Especially when you couple Long’s appearance with the shrieking and moaning he does after being transformed. After awhile it really gets grating on the nerves. Not in an annoying sense. It grates on them hard and makes me uncomfortable. Watching Parks’ character rant at Long, transformed into a hideous thing, feeding him, making him eat; it’s awful. But awful in the best sort of way.
The bits of drama worked into the storyline served things well. Once you get to the end and look back at the drama Smith infused into the screenplay, they really add to one another. The ending (I won’t give it away) sort of makes you look at how both Ally and Teddy feel about Wallace, deep down, regardless of everything which came before. Some might see the ending as foolish, or whatever – I don’t see it that way. There’s a real sentimental angle at work that serves the dramatic storyline well. It isn’t just an attempt for a goofy/happy ending to a horror-comedy. It’s how Smith closes out the emotional angle he’d been playing at with the Wallace/Ally/Teddy story. I thought it was probably the best way for Tusk to end. In a way, it’s sentimental, yet still a bit horrifying.
The comedy really works. I’m Canadian, and I thought a lot of the Canada jokes were hilarious. The ‘aboot’ thing is a bit overworked in film/television generally, but other than that it’s really funny. I thought the ‘double double’ joke was pretty funny because I’ve heard lots of people actually say things like that. Some might misinterpret the joke as Smith not understanding what a ‘double double’ actually is, but it’s the opposite – he knows, and he’s making fun of Tim Hortons lovers. At least that’s how I see it.
Also, near the opening Long’s character goes through the airport, and one of the Canadian guys working there is just so ridiculously funny it makes me tear up – plus, his beard is gnarly as all hell.
The performances in Tusk are what really make things chug along wonderfully. Of course people will talk about Parks because he did a great job, as he did in the previous outing with Smith on Red State. And he was fascinating. Really creepy, especially in the early dinner table scenes opposite Long. Some very ominous stuff.
Even Just Long, who I’m admittedly not huge on really, does a good job with the material. He is a perfect fit for Wallace, and was pretty funny at times, especially in his banter with Parks, as well as with the two young girls at the Canadian convenience store (played by the daughter duo of Depp and Smith’s girls). There are a few really creepy points where Long does a fantastic job after his “transformation”; his vocalizations are really god damn scary at times, to me, and I watch a lot of horror. He could have simply wailed, but you could really feel some of Wallace’s fear by the way Long screamed and pleaded for help.
Mainly, though, I really want to talk about Mr. Depp. A lot of people like to say he isn’t actually a great actor, he only takes a role depending on the hat he gets to wear, he sold out, blah, blah, blah. I think that is a load of bullshit. Depp is not only an extremely talented actor, he absolutely blows the screen to bits in Tusk. First off, his portrayal of a French Canadian Quebec accent (for those who don’t know, yes, there are other French people in Canada aside from the people of Quebec..) is so awesome. Even just his speech patterns, let alone the accent, are perfect. Loved it. A lot of times we see Depp in roles where he’s got a sexy sort of edge to him; even his dirty, fiendish Jack Sparrow was meant to have a kind of sex appeal to him. Here, Lapointe is just a really awesome dirtbag. He’s lovable, but good lord is he strange and sort of gross.
One of my favourite parts of the whole movie is when Lapointe mashes down a slider, nearly flat against a table, reminiscing on the only downfall of the great people of Quebec, and then eats it up (special note: wait until after the credits before you leave the theatre or turn off the film – there is a fun little post-credit scene with Lapointe recalling his love of the slider). Plus, there are plenty of other little bits where Depp absolutely sucks the marrow out of every bit of the Lapointe character. Anyone who says he “ruined the movie” or some such nonsense is a hater. Depp is hilarious here. For a second, I almost didn’t recognize him. Once he speaks, of course you’ll know. Before that, though, the prosthetics and the facial hair and the accent almost conceal him. I loved every second of his performance.
I really have to give Tusk a 4 out of 5 stars. It isn’t a perfect film. There are points where things sort of drag a little. I don’t know if the switch between genres had anything to do with pacing – I really liked the genre mashup here – but it’s possible that maybe a little less of a stark contrast between the genres in Tusk might appease more fans. Regardless, this film really hits the right notes. As I said, Smith finds a way to loop all those dramatic elements back together into something tangible while still hanging onto all the comedy and horror of Tusk. Not to mention Smith shot the film gorgeously. His eye for shot composition has only gotten better with time, film after film.
People will say it’s too funny to be all out horror. I say bullshit. People say the “transformation” is too silly to take seriously – I say, you’re watching a movie about a man wanting to turn another man into a fucking walrus, stop acting like it’s an Ingmar Bergman film. Sit back, enjoy Tusk for what it is – a horror comedy with dramatic elements and a few really awesome, creepy, and fun performances to boot. I really can’t wait for this to finally get out on Blu ray because I will most certainly be picking it up. Smith continues to impress me with his horror efforts on this second outing after his initial dip into the genre with Red State. I like the way he approaches horror. Looking forward to some more.