Screen Rant's Ben Kendrick reviews Tucker & Dale vs Evil
The horror genre is over-saturated with killer hillbilly slasher films - ruthless psychopaths who have nothing better to do than torture unsuspecting innocents. As the horror genre progressed from B-movie terror to "torture porn," we've seen plenty of vacationing families, law enforcement officials, and road-tripping college kids meet their maker in increasingly horrifying ways.
But what if all the blood and guts, all the decapitations and mutilated limbs, were just the result of an enormous misunderstanding - where a lack of communication leads to (horribly fun) disaster?
That's the basic pitch of Eli Craig's horror comedy, Tucker & Dale vs Evil, starring Alan Tudyk (Firefly) and Tyler Labine (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) as a pair of misunderstood hillbillies who, while vacationing at their summer home, find themselves cast as the villains in a gruesome set of events. But does newcomer Craig (fun fact: he's Sally Field's youngest son) succeed in delivering on this intriguing premise - or does Tucker & Dale vs Evil fail at both its comedy as well as horror aspirations?
Fortunately, Tucker & Dale vs Evil hits nearly every mark that it aims for - though it delivers significantly more comedy than horror - and plays on iconic slasher film staples as well as expectations to great effect.
As mentioned, the basic story follows the misadventures of Dale (Alan Tudyk) and Tucker (Tyler Labine), two hillbilly best friends who, while fixing-up their summer home, encounter a group of overly-anxious college kids. When the pair startle Allison (Katrina Bowden), one of the twenty-something girls, and she begins to drown in a nearby river, Tucker jumps in after her. With Allison safely inside the boat, Dale calls out to her classmates in reassurance, "We've got your friend!" - setting the teens into a panic and, subsequently, on an unfortunate and misguided rescue mission that results in a lot of pain and suffering for hillbillies and college kids alike.
Some moviegoers might think that the Tucker & Dale vs Evil premise sounds entirely absurd - and, to a certain extent, it is - but that doesn't keep the film from delivering plenty of genuinely funny comedy moments as well as some palpable suspense and tension. That said, suspense should not be confused with scares - the "horror" in Tucker and Dale is more the blood and guts variety, not so much the jump scares that are used frequently in the film's genre source inspirations. This isn't to say that the film isn't exceptionally entertaining - but it's worth tempering expectations with regard to the tone of the project.
That said, Craig's horror comedy is especially good at two things - 1) offering-up some genuinely disgusting death sequences (as any competent horror film should) and 2) presenting hilarious counter-points to each of the grisly kills by juxtaposing an iconic image (a chainsaw wielding psychopath) with an entertaining peek through Tucker and/or Dale's perspective (a victim of a bee attack). While the stupidity of the college kids is ultimately responsible for their undoing, Tucker and Dale's perception of, and reaction to, the unfolding events is very entertaining. As a result, the film owes a lot of credit to Tudyk and Labine's performances, who, despite the number of people dying on their property (as a result of their inability to communicate the situation effectively), remain empathetic and likable characters all the way through.
The college kids, on the other hand, are the weakest aspect of the film - on a case by case basis. Katrina Bowden (30 Rock) is great as Allison - successfully maintaining a grounded balance in spite of the craziness that has put her at the center of an enormous and violent misunderstanding. Interestingly, with regard to her friends, and in keeping with flipping the slasher film genre on its head - the motivation of the college kids is about as thin as the motivation of most iconic slasher villains. Sure, most of the time they're focused on rescuing Allison, but often, the way they approach a given situation is laughable and over-the-top - turning the team of polo-wearing twenty-somethings into one-note characters like Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees. In general, they're mostly (intentional) stereotypes that provide meat for the horror movie grinder, so the film doesn't waste any time developing group dynamics or inter-personal relationships. Jesse Moss (Final Destination 3) is given a bit more to work with as Chad (the group's resident hillbilly expert) but can be a bit excessive - even for a movie that plays heavily on caricatures.
As a result, it's fun to watch each of them create scenarios for their own undoing - especially since Tucker and Dale succeed in appearing so sympathetic. However, at times, the movie attempts to do a bit too much, tying the colored hillbilly horror past into current events as well as wrapping up Tucker and Dale's character journeys - in favor of actually dealing with the emotional fall-out of the preceding events. Of course, Tucker and Dale vs Evil is mostly a comedy, so it's better that it continues to offer laughs instead of deep-seated emotional complexity.
That said, it's ultimately hard to rectify the balance of parody and resulting horror, given the number of "innocent" deaths that are presented on-screen - especially since no one, not even the surviving characters in the film, seem to care. Since there are no real scares or psychological horror in the film, these deaths don't carry any weight or serve to build tension into the over-arching narrative - and exist only as laughable scenes from moment to moment. It's not that it doesn't work, but the final fifteen minutes of the movie are so tangled, that there had to be a more elegant and enjoyable way of uniting all the blood, humor, and story elements together. As a result, despite being entertaining, at times it can be unclear where Craig is flexing an expert parody muscle and where he's just bitten off more than he can chew.
In the end, Tucker and Dale vs Evil is deliciously fun satire - and, once all the blood has been spilt, offers genuinely interesting commentary on the fine line between hero and horror villain. Sure, character motivations are unclear at times, and downright unbelievable at others points, but there's no doubt that Craig succeeds in making some interesting observations in Tucker and Dale vs Evil - as well as delivering plenty of outrageous entertainment.
If you’re still on the fence about Tucker & Dale vs Evil, check out the RED BAND trailer below:
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Tucker & Dale vs Evil is available now on video-on-demand and opens in theaters September 30, 2011 for a limited run with a DVD release shortly after.