(Disclaimer: This article contains massive spoilers for both Tusk and Yoga Hosers. Continue at your own risk)
Kevin Smith is a nerd icon, there is no denying that. Writing and Directing films such as: Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, he has solidified himself as a dynamic film-maker. His Podcasts: Smodcast, Hollywood Babble-on, and Fatman on Batman are widely popular and he is still relevant in popular culture today. His recent relevance though, is not due to his film making.
His last two films Tusk and Yoga Hosers are part of a film series he is calling The True North Trilogy. Both films have had little success at the box office and have been critically panned. Apparently there is not an overwhelming appetite for these movies and the quality leaves something to be desired. So why is he making a trilogy that nobody asked for? To answer that question, lets take a look at the first two films to get a better idea of the world Kevin Smith is painting for us.
A U.S. podcaster (Justin Long) ventures into the Canadian wilderness to interview an old man (Michael Parks) who has an extraordinary past, and the American learns the man has a dark secret involving a walrus.
On a episode of Smodcast (The Walrus and The Carpenter ep. 259), Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier discovered a creepy ad for a man who rents out a room in his house for free, on the condition that the respondent dresses as a walrus for two hours per day. This idea stuck around in Kevin Smith's creative mind, and after a brainstorming session, the film Tusk was born.
Tusk centers around an american podcaster Wallace (Justin Long), who travels to Canada to interview a internet celebrity named "The Kill Bill Kid." Upon arriving to the young man's house, he learns that the young man he meant to interview has taken his own life. Our plucky protagonist (a term we use loosely because he is mostly a dick) heads to a bar in search of a different story. He finds one in the form of an old man named Howard Howe (Michael Parks) who has many interesting tales. Mr. Howe is not all he seems, as his nefarious plan begins to take shape. These plans involve turning Wallace into a walrus.
While poor Wallace is being turned into a monster, his best friend Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) and girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) begin searching for him. They receive no help from the authorities so they decide to enlist the help of a Canadian super detective by the name of Guy Lapointe (Johnny Depp). He informs them that Wallace has be taken captive by a serial killer who has kidnapped and mutilated twenty-six people so far.
We spend a lot of time with Mr. Howe desensitizing Wallace and having made him look walrus-like, he molds his mind to make him act like one. Terry, Ally, and Guy end up tracking down Wallace but by the time they discover him, he has transformed fully into Mr. Tusk. With his humanity lost, Mr. Tusk ends up killing Howe in an ironic fashion.
Don't worry, you didn't read anything wrong. A man in this movie takes another man, drugs him, cuts off his legs, and using human skin turns him into a walrus. It is one of the most disturbing things ever to be on film. It can be likened to Human Centipede, purely based on the human mutilation aspect. Howard Howe's motivation for doing this is a long winded story involving him being lost at sea and killing a walrus that saved his life. This walrus that Howe named Mr. Tusk, has become his obsession and caused him to try to recreate the creature for redemption sake.
Though the premise is absolutely insane it still has a sense of earnestness. The more time spent on the walrus creature the more this movie begins to feel like a chore. The performances are absolutely top notch. Not one actor is phoning it in, although Johnny Depp's character can take you out of the movie once you realize it's him. Michael Parks is the absolute stand out. He portrays his character as combination of Ernest Hemingway and Kathy Bates from Misery, which is absolutely terrifying and inspired. Artistically the movie looks gorgeous, as Kevin Smith's directorial skills are displayed to full effect.
The movie as a whole is a big let down both financially and critically. The target audience for the film appears to be a mystery. It didn't even manage to make its money back; grossing a grand total of $1.9 million on a $3 million budget. Critical reception was poor as well. Garnering a forty-one percent on Rotten Tomatoes. When it comes down to it the RT critical consensus sums up the film in a brief but extremely accurate way:
Tusk is pleasantly ridiculous and charmingly self-deprecating, but that isn't enough to compensate for its thin, overstretched story.
Yoga Hosers (2016)
The film centers on 15-year-old yoga nuts Colleen Collette and Colleen McKenzie, who have an after-school job at a Manitoba convenience store called Eh-2-Zed. When an ancient evil rises from beneath Canada's crust, releasing an army of little monsters, called the Bratzis (little Nazis made out of bratwursts) and threatens the Colleens' big invitation to a senior party, they join forces with a legendary man-hunter from Montreal, Guy Lapointe
The second film in the True North Trilogy follows two teenage girls that were introduced in the previous film Tusk. We are reunited with Colleen Collette (Lily-Rose Depp) and Colleen McKenzie (Harley Quinn Smith) as we journey with them on their strange adventure. Emphasis on the word strange.
The story begins with the Colleens rocking out with their band, which consist of them and drummer Ichabod (Adam Brody), in the back room of the Eh-2-Zed. Once they are finished they re-open the store and get back to "work." Hunter Calloway (Austin Butler), a very hunky grade twelve boy, comes in the store and invites the girls to a grade twelve party. This party happens to be the catalyst for all the events that follow.
From there we visit both Colleen's homes and get a little bit of backstory on their family life as well as an introduction to the yoga class they care for so deeply. Their yoga instructor Yogi Bayer (Justin Long) has a pretty funny running gag involving him being sued for his name. He also has little-to-no concept of what yoga is supposed to be. Apparently it is used to destroy your enemies. Which comes into play later.
During the Colleen's history class we learn of the Canadian Nazis that ran rampant in Mantioba during and following World War II. The Canadian Nazi Party consisted of Adrien Arcand (Haley Joel Osment) who was killed after the war and Andronicus Arcane (Ralph Garman) who mysteriously vanished. More on that later.
In a series of events that are a real bummer, the Colleens are unable to attend the grade twelve part they were invited to. Instead they invite Hunter Calloway (Austin Butler) and Gordon Greenleaf (Tyler Posey) to come to the Eh-2-Zed and have the party there. The boys come over and they promptly try to kill the Colleens because as satanists they must slay virgins to please "The Dark Lord." The would-be murderers plans are foiled however, by the appearance of tiny bratwurst Nazi clones named Bratzis. The Bratzis kill Hunter and Gordon from the inside out. The girls end up killing all of the Bratzis but the police arrive, arrest the girls, and charge them with the murder of Hunter and Gordon.
While in jail the famous "Man-Hunter from Montreal" (Guy Lapointe) shows up and breaks the girls out of jail. They then travel to the Eh-2-Zed and venture underneath to a secret passage that very few people know about. This leads us back to Andronicus Arcane who we find hiding in an underground layer below the convenience store. It is also revealed that he created the Bratzis. He also created a giant golem made of human parts wearing a hockey mask! This golem is of course piloted by Bratzis who quickly turn on their creator and kill him. It then sets it sights on the girls. Have no fear, the Colleens swiftly defeat the golem using yoga as some sort of martial-arts and then the credits roll.
Sweet Christ on a cracker, this movie is a convoluted mess. Unlike its predecessor Tusk, this film lacks a cohesive story-line and is propelled forward by its overwhelming weirdness. At times it feels that stylistically it's attempting some sort of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World surrealism. Even then it doesn't feel like this film quite knows what it wants to be. Is it a millennial romp? Is it an homage to Kevin Smith's earlier films? Is it just being weird for the sake of being weird? Any of these or all of these could be true but that's the problem, it's unclear. Smith seems painfully self aware and knows this. In an interview with Crave Online he stated:
What is clear is that Kevin Smith missed the mark on this one. Yoga Hosers is an absolute chore to muscle through. It did deliver weirdness as promised, but weirdness for weirdness sake just doesn't work. The film leaves a lot to be desired and is a poor entry into the lineage of Smith's body of work. It currently sits at a whopping twenty-one percent on Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus absolutely poignant:
Undisciplined, unfunny, and bereft of evident purpose, Yoga Hosers represents a particularly grating low point in Kevin Smith's once-promising career.
The True North Trilogy Moving Forward
So far Smith has released two out of the three films as promised in his True North Trilogy. Both films are sub-par and not anywhere near the level that Kevin Smith's films should be. It is however great that Smith gets to creatively explore more now that he can financially afford it. However, this appears to be the only reason these films are getting made. Which is fine in its own right, but creativity and quality are not mutually exclusive ideas.
Tusk and Yoga Hosers have tons of potential; but it feels as if the potential was never met due to intense desire to make the films weird. In the same aforementioned interview with Crave Online Smith said:
"Yeah, because you’re right off of your… What I love about these Canadian movies I’m doing, the True North Trilogy, it’s absurdism man. It’s like, when it hits, the people that like it, fuck it hits an amazing sweet spot and they’ll remember that movie for the rest of their life. For some people though it’s just going to be like, “I don’t get it.” Or, “I get it and I fucking hate it.” And I get that. That’s totally fine. It’s not for everybody but it’s definitely for me. I’m enjoying the shit out of it. It’s so stupid. It’s so batshit crazy. Oftentimes I sit down and write a script, I’m too busy thinking about you, or them, or fucking the people who are eventually going to pay to see the movie. You’re thinking about three-act structure, you’re thinking about how to deliver something that they want to see. These movies, Tusk and Yoga Hosers, they’re like mine. I keep the budgets way low because I’m like, this is what I want to see and if people don’t like it, I get it, it’s a real fucking weird bridge to walk, but like this is the weird bridge I want to create."
When all is said and done Kevin Smith is making this trilogy because he damn well feels like it. Which is both awesome and oddly frustrating at the same time. They seem to fall into this tiny window of likability that borderlines on the absurd. As a film maker that is his prerogative of course. If he can afford to make the movies he wants to make regardless of their reception, more power to him. May we all be so lucky in our future endeavors.
We still have one more film in the trilogy. The third instalment is a film titled Moose Jaws which is of course a satirical take on Jaws but with a moose instead of a shark. Smith gives his thoughts on the film:
"So in doing that it’s kind of like, Moose Jaws… it’s not me going “Point A leads to Point B, Point B leads to Point C.” “Man vs. Himself, Man vs. Environment, Man vs. Nature” or whatever the fuck. I just get to fuck around. I just get to write jokes and movie jokes, pop culture-related humor. Whole thing is one big fat pop culture joke, from start to finish. So as that, I fucking love it. It’s so fun to write, so fun to read and shit like that. I don’t know if it will be fun to watch but it’s a movie that pretty much is Jaws beat-for-beat, not shot-for-shot, but beat-for-beat Jaws. And then at the end you can tell the filmmaker got really fucking bored because I just start making other movies instead. It becomes Godzilla and Destroy All Monsters and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and then Return of the Jedi, and it ends like that. So you know, it’s a movie that’s more about the content of my heart than head, in terms of like when you work with your head you try to make something satisfying for everybody else. This is just like, “Aaagh! All the things I love!”
In theory the concept sounds ridiculously awesome. The only red flag of course is having seen the previous two films. It's hard to get excited for something when the quality of the predecessors leaves a lot to be desired. However, Kevin Smith is no doubt a great film-maker. He is just exercising his right to do whatever he feels like and by doing that he's bound to miss the mark with the majority.
The main take-away is that a film can be weird and be good at the same time. We've seen it time and time again, A Clockwork Orange being the most obvious example. Kevin Smith just needs to find that sweet spot and everyone will be the better for it. Who knows, maybe Moose Jaws will be amazing the amazing cult hit that we know Smith is capable of. Until then we still have all of Smith's top notch work to re-watch and enjoy. Snoochie Boochies!
Sound Off! Did you like Tusk and/or Yoga Hosers? How do you feel about these films? Let it be known in the comments below!