Review: 'Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil'
Hillbillies 1, Coeds 0
I've been waiting a VERY long time for this film to arrive on the big screen in San Diego but you'll have to act fast to catch one of the "Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil" (opening September 30 at Landmark's Ken Cinema) midnight screenings this weekend. NOTE: On October 7, "Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil" will open at Reading Gaslamp Stadium Theaters. Yay!
For about a year I've been hearing about "Tucker and Dale" as it racked up fans on the festival circuit -- debuting at Sundance in 2010 and winning the Midnight Audience Award at SXSW and the Jury Prize for First Feature at Fantasia. The press materials promised that it does for hillbillies what "Shaun of the Dead" did for zombies... well not quite. But "Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil" is damned funny. It's also gory and a surprisingly sweet-natured send up of horror genre conventions. Check out the trailer.
Tucker (the ever delightful Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are good buddies, and to the out of place coeds traveling in the backwoods, they also seem like murderous backwoods hillbillies. So when Tucker and Dale head out to their vacation home up in the mountains, the slumming coeds mistake them for rampaging Jasons. As the boys try to correct the misconceptions, bodies start to pile up in bloody, gruesome fashion.
The great thing about Eli Craig's film debut is that even though you know what's coming, the film feels entirely fresh and you take pleasure in seeing it deliver. What's fresh is the concept, the turning the tables on horror expectations. So the hillbillies are sweet, the black kid doesn't die first, and the violence is almost all unintentional. What's so much fun is to see how Craig is going to set up the horror convention and then skewer it... sometimes literally. Craig cleverly sets up each death so we see it coming and keeping thinking, no, no, he's not really going to... OMG! He did. In some ways it shares a certain structural similarity to the "Final Destination" films in that each death is like a Rube Goldberg device in which components are set in motion and see how the pieces will interlock and result in a gruesome demise. It's a case where knowing what's about to happen increases the tension and brings us to the edge of our seat in giddy anticipation. This is a horror comedy designed to tickle horror fans who have grown frustrated with the often predictable formula of the genre they love. Now Craig comes along to invigorate the familiar.
For a film as funny as this, it may be a surprise to some to see the level of gore it has. But it's all in good fun and well done. There's a wood chipper scene that rivals the one in "Fargo" and some hilarious spoofing of all the running through the woods cliches of every Jason slasher film. One of the chief successes of the film is that Craig maintains such a perfectly calibrated comic horror tone. The two leads are good-natured good ole boys and each violent death prompts hilarious disbelief on their part. Labine and Tudyk are charming in their dim-wittedness and completely pull us into their plight.
"Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil" (rated R for bloody horror violence, language and brief nudity) earns a hard R and delivers better gore than most straight up horror films but with a killer comic edge. It's not as fast and furious as the recent "Attack the Block" but that might just be the difference that comes from "Attack the Block" being an urban teen horror comedy and "Tucker and Dale" being a slower paced hillbilly horror comedy. The locations dictate the pace of life in each film. That being said, "Tucker and Dale" delivers on both horror and comedy. And underneath all the blood and gooey bits of gore, Craig also has something to say about not judging people or situations just by appearances.
Companion viewing: "Friday the 13th," "Final Destination," "Fargo"