It's a horror movie that plays on tropes. Those tropes are already pretty R-rated. Combining the these tropes do not make salt. They make a movie pretty R-rated. I will say that the tone is very fun and light. It still doesn't ignore the fact that people get brutalized pretty violently. (Brutalized violently. Look at that English teacher go!) R.
DIRECTOR: Eli Craig
I really should listen to Netflix more often. Netflix has been putting this in my recommendations for as long as I could remember. I don't know why I don't trust algorithms, but there has to be some basis for these choices. It was only after a slew of people, who all recommended it to each other, came in screaming that I had to watch this movie that I sat down and actually watched it. Horror comedies done well bring a very weird emotion. I had such a good time with this movie and I do recommend it to almost my entire reading audience, but I have to say it is lacking a ton of substance.
In either high school or college, I watched the movie Rat Race. It was a remake of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. I liked both of them, but Rat Race, I knew, wasn't going to survive the test of time. It was a very clever movie with some absolutely hilarious jokes. (I'm terrified to watch this so I don't have to stand up for this statement later on.) My friends and I joked about that movie for a few weeks and I think I picked it up on DVD in a Walmart bin for $5.00 during my "completely disposable income" phase. But in my mind, I knew this movie wasn't a classic. It was just pure fun. The same thing is true about Tucker and Dale. The movie is remarkably fun and it also has the advantage that it is not a remake. The movie is clever on its own and I have to give Craig and his team all the respect in the world for pulling off this project. But it also hits the same part of my brain as a Looney Tunes cartoon would. The absurdity of the whole story is what both makes it very fun to watch, but ultimately disposable. For those people who love this movie, and I'm sure that there are plenty, I'm sorry that I'm never going to put it in my cult movie list. Instead, I kind of just want to put it on with friends around Halloween because it's just a good time. It's as popcorny as a movie can be and that's what the filmmakers wanted. I guess movies like Cabin in the Woods have kind of ruined other genre analysis films for me because Tucker and Dale, in its own way, is really smart.
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is just obscure enough that I feel like I have to give a lightly spoilery summary about the plot. I'm going to avoid giving details because comedies work best when you don't see them coming. Here we go! A group of teenagers head out to the woods and run into creepy looking rednecks, Tucker and Dale. They instantly assume everything that is said in movies about rednecks is true and treat the two instantly like potential serial killers. In reality, Tucker and Dale, while being rednecks, are gloriously innocent and endearing, but are somehow blamed for a series of events that lead to some of the teenagers dying in gory and hilarious ways. Man, that is a great summary. I'm patting myself on the back for that one. I tried giving a summary of the movie yesterday aloud and just tripped over every line in an attempt to avoid spoilers. That premise is pretty brilliant, but it works for two reasons. The first reason is the intricate choreography. While character motivations and choices tend to be a bit silly, all of the reasonings are on par with Wile E. Coyote's attempts to catch the Roadrunner. The moments are telegraphed a little bit, but Craig makes the movie work with the timing and shocking value of what he will and won't show on screen. There is a tightrope to walk when making a horror comedy and I think Craig falls on the right side of the line. When the violence in this movie is gory, it is so over the top gory without going into any sense of realism. Instead, it plays up on the absurdity of how much blood is in the human body. I think movies like this believe that bodies are just sacks of blood because the truth of these moments are far worse. Eli Roth directing this movie would have had specific organs being ripped apart on screen. Craig gets that an excess of red corn syrup mixed with odd body parts works way better into both selling the horror and the comic elements of the film. As part of the choreography and mise en scene of the film, the characters are absolutely silly stereotypes of who they are supposed to be. I hate going back to Cabin in the Woods, but Tucker and Dale make the smart choice of not explaining their characters' lack of depth. Whedon and Goddard played with the notions of why characters were making bad decisions. Craig treats them like the tropes they are while offering the other side of what is going on. That works.
The second, and possibly more important, part of what makes the film work is the chemistry between the title characters, Tucker and Dale themselves. I will always preach Alan Tudyk. I've probably now seen every character he offers and they are all great. Sure, many of them are variations on what they have seen. His Tucker is just a southern version of many of his bag of tricks, but I rarely ever get to see this character in a lead role. Tucker is just the right balance of cocky and dumb. But he can't be written up as completely dumb because he has extremely insightful elements to him. To have one moment have Tucker give Dale a speech about self-worth and confidence and the next moment having him pour beer all over a faceful of beestings is great. The character is sympathetic while subverting tropes and I just realized how pretentious my writing is. Tyler Labine as Dale is also pretty great. I don't have the cult following element around Labine like I do with Tudyk, but he's always been a pretty solid character actor. Like Tudyk, Labine tends to play a lot of sidekick or tertiary roles in movies and television. Honestly, Craig is subverting that trope as well, allowing Dale as a sidekick become the primary protagonist. Labine does a great job, but a lot of that comes from the great writing for the character. It is hard, like with the original Dumb and Dumber, to write characters that are stupid without becoming obnoxious. Dale's strength comes from his innocence and compassion while retaining a very specific skill set. While I always secretly want Alan Tudyk to be the protagonist, Dale might work way better in this role. There's something slightly abrasive about Tucker / Tudyk that prevents him from being a completely sympathetic character and that dynamic really works with Dale's unflinching optimism.
If I had to be critical, and these moments didn't really bother me, I don't really understand the backstory that well. I mean, I get it, but it seems really clunky compared to how the rest of the minimal plot is rolled out. It also doesn't help that I didn't really like the casting of any of the college kids, especially the primary antagonist. There's something so annoying about these characters. I know that the movie is hitting on tropes and one of the more obvious tropes is the annoying college kids who, from an audience's perspective, deserve to die. But there were elements about their performances and their lines that were wearing really think. The antagonist ramps things up to a level that the movie really doesn't prep for as well as it thinks it does. Part of the problem comes with the fact that the movie has a really obvious resolution that is addressed, but ultimately discarded. The movie is about a misunderstanding and the film makes a gutsy choice saying that thing that we all are thinking: everything would be resolved if everyone just sat down and talked for two seconds. This scene happens, but it resolves nothing. While a funny commentary on that trope, it also rang the most false. Remember, I'm saying this in a movie that begs an audience to suspend disbelief and follow Looney Tunes rules. This moment should have been great, but it ended only as an "okay" moment.
The movie is funny and it feels wrong to analyze it on any level whatsoever. The thing is, there is a reason that not a ton of people have watched this movie. I know that I can't be the only audience for Netflix's recommendation list, so there has to be something that is still missing. The movie is so close to pure greatness, but it does entrench itself too much within its own rules. To cite the rule of threes, Cabin in the Woods also addresses the silliness of tropes, but it does the smart thing and tries to avoid those tropes rather than embracing them. The scale of Cabin is remarkably huge philosophically and Tucker and Dale are afraid to go there. Instead of inventing and rearranging, it simply embraces the typical movie formula, which ironically is a trope in itself. This doesn't make the movie bad, but it does make it more disposable than it should be. It took so many small risks. I just wish it would take a bigger one.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.