Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tuesday Review: Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010)

    There is nothing to fear but fear itself…

    Horror movies reign supreme in the world of low-budget, independent films. They often don’t cost much, and are relatively easy to pull off - as long as you have a cast willing to cavort around nakedly and plenty of Karo syrup and Red Dye No. 5, then you’re golden. Making an original horror movie is not quite as easy, so when one comes along you learn to sit up and take notice. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is another in the long line of horror comedy revivals of the last decade, a grouping of movies eager to chase the success of Shaun of the Dead. Most filmmakers assume all you really need to get the horror geek crowd attracted by Edgar Wright's masterful film is a bunch of movie references and gore (see: Dead Snow), and judging by the title alone you could assume that Tucker & Dale is just more of the same. But fortunately for us all, Eli Craig’s debut film captures what made Shaun of the Dead so special - a big, beating heart underneath all the gore - while also carving out its own little piece of originality.

    Good ole boys Tucker and Dale have just bought a cabin for their vacation, which they plan to spend fixing the place up whilst drinking and fishing. Stopping at a gas station, they run across a bunch of college kids out to spend the week camping and… Well, doing what college kids do (at least in horror movies, anyway). The kids are thoroughly freaked out by Tucker and Dale’s appearance, something which isn’t helped by Dale’s overall awkwardness around girls. They cross paths again that night, as the duo come across the kids skinny-dipping in the lake where they’re fishing. One of the girls slips on a rock and is knocked unconscious away from the others, and Dale immediately dives to her rescue. Her friends see the two pulling in the unconscious girl and immediately think they’re kidnapping her, and after a few more misunderstandings both Tucker and Dale and the college kids find themselves trapped in a horror movie - each being unwittingly terrorized by the other.

    Tucker & Dale gleefully subverts genre expectations at every turn. Case in point: one scene featuring one of the college kids accidentally impaling himself on a tree stump while running away from a chainsaw-wielding Tucker (who himself was running because he accidentally sawed through a hornet’s nest while cutting up some lumber). The rest of the film features equally shocking and hilarious accidental deaths as the college kids consistently off themselves while trying to “rescue” their friend - most stretching the limits of credibility, but staged so creatively by director Eli Craig that it doesn't really matter.

    A big part of why the film works as well as it does is due to the cast. Alan Tudyk continues to be a far-too overlooked actor, and here he’s in fine comedic form in the role Tucker. Tyler Labine plays his best friend Dale, who is the true emotional center of the movie. Dale has a severe inferiority complex, never realizing how smart he actually is. He falls pretty hard for the girl they rescue, Allison, played by Katrina Bowden. Bowden’s supermodel looks are probably not right for the part of Allison, but judging the actress based on her looks alone would be rather hypocritical for a movie that’s all about not judging a book by its cover, and Bowden is a pretty fantastic comedic actress (I particularly liked the scene near the end where she sits everyone down to work out their differences, like in a group therapy session). Rounding out the main cast is Jesse Moss as fratboy Chad, who shows his true colors as the film’s only certifiable psychopath. When the plot goes south and events spiral out of control, Chad is the one egging the others on fight against the two unassuming hillbillies, convinced he’s fighting against evil incarnate.

    And that’s where the film’s true genius shines through. Most wars and/or conflicts come about through simple misunderstandings. All it takes to resolve such matters is a cool head and a moment to think things through, but paranoia and fear of those different from ourselves lead people to act in increasingly drastic ways. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil provides the perfect showcase for this, as the college kids immediately think that our two leads must be like the slack-jawed, inbred killers of so many horror films.

    I can’t really find much at fault with the movie. The ending devolves into a pretty standard action climax, which is fine I suppose, but I would have much preferred the film to end after the far more compelling “talking things through” group therapy scene mentioned above. I was also puzzled by the opening scene, waiting for it to tie into the rest of the movie, but you have to wait until the very end to learn how that particular reveal plays out.

    All things considered, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is right up there with classics like Shaun of the Dead and Evil Dead 2 as one of the very best horror comedies ever made.      

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