REVIEW: Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
Produced by: Morgan Jurgenson, Albert Klychak, Rosanne Milliken, Deepak Nayar
Screenplay by: Eli Craig, Morgan Jurgenson
Story by: Eli Craig
Edited by: Bridget Durnford
Cinematography by: David Geddes
Music by: Michael Shields, Andrew Kaiser
Starring: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss, Chelan Simmons, Brandon Jay McLaren, Christie Laing, Travis Nelson, Alex Arsenault, Adam Beauchesne, Joseph Allan Sutherland, Karen Reigh, Tye Evans, Philip Granger
You know, hillbillies, rednecks, and hicks don’t get a lot of respect. Jokes about incest, ignorance, ugliness, and prejudices are pretty common fodder when it comes to discussing people we assign these labels, and when they’re not made out to be the butt of jokes, they’re often made out to be psychotics to be feared and villainized. You would think, though, in these days of understanding and tolerance that we’d attempt to be not so quick to return judgment on those we deem to be judgmental. Sure, sometimes the criticism is justified, but obviously not everyone is the same, and sometimes these portrayals aren’t exactly fair. So what if someone were to make a film that told the story about a hillbilly massacre from the hillbillies’ perspective? No, I’m not talking about the Texas Chain Saw Massacre prequel movie they’re making, Leatherface. I’m talking about a film where it turns out that the hillbillies were the ones being terrorized by the perceived victims, a group of attractive, entitled young people! That’s pretty much the concept behind Tucker & Dale vs. Evil.
I first came across this film while browsing through Netflix for a horror film to watch a few years ago, and when I saw Firefly star Alan Tudyk on the artwork, I pretty much decided then and there to give it a go. (The high recommendation score for it also helped.) Much like The Cabin in the Woods, the film starts off as a cliché: a group of college students are heading out on vacation to the middle of nowhere on a camping trip, but their destination comes with a terrifying history. As recounted by Chad, the popped-collar leader of the group, their campsite was the scene of a brutal massacre of college students much like themselves at the hands of a group of deranged hillbillies several years ago. Naturally, these over-privileged yuppies immediately become paranoid about the people who live in and around the area, particularly the two guys who seem to be following them around. Why, one of them even attempted to talk to them!
Obviously, you know from the title that these guys are Tucker and Dale, played by Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine. While the duo are indeed hillbillies, they’re actually pretty nice guys, lifelong friends who are making their way out to a new vacation home Tucker purchased out in the middle of a forest, intending to make a few repairs. However, when the duo saves one of the college kids’ lives in an incident that only Tucker and Dale are witness to, the cultural misunderstandings between the two groups lead to a series of events that illustrate how the blame for the graphically violent events in your typical slasher film might not actually lie in the place you would expect.
Comedic and/or satirical horror films aren’t exactly a rarity, though it’s hard for me to think of many of them in recent memory that don’t make it a point of pointing out all the horror movie tropes and going all meta on the audience. The comedy of Tucker & Dale is founded on the concept of turning everything on its head and acknowledging the insidiousness of self-indulgent youths whose worlds only revolve around their own wellbeing, but while this is pretty funny, an unexpected majority of the laughs are actually derived from the physical, slapstick comedy that results from the familiar, gruesome scenes playing out in unexpected ways, aided by some very effective, often disgusting effects work. This is in contrast, however, to the lighthearted, well-mannered, and oftentimes sweet interactions between the two friends, Tucker and Dale, and their perceived captive, Allison, played by 30 Rock’s Katrina Bowden, who remains blissfully unaware of her friends’ immediately violent plot to “save her.”
Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine are pretty fantastic here, with Tudyk playing Tucker, the longsuffering, more sensible, wiser, and philosophical of the two, and Labine playing the expectedly dim, overweight buffoon. It’s very much a Laurel and Hardy-type pairing, as Roger Ebert also pointed out. However, even Labine’s roll is unexpectedly more layered than you would expect, and while Dale’s not exactly a genius, as Tucker explains to him, he’s mostly just selling himself short and the results are more symptomatic of that, than anything. Dale’s budding relationship with Allison, whose hot-blonde-college-girl archetype also eschews genre contrivances, ends up being a really solid backbone upon which to support the ever-growing pile of corpses, too, with Labine’s clumsy sweetness and Bowden’s grounded, charming portrayal of “the final girl” making them a couple worth rooting for.
If the film has any major missteps, it’s possibly in regards to the expendable cast members – while many of them go out in hilarious ways, apart from their leader, Chad, most of them somehow manage to be even less well developed than the ones you’d normally see in horror films. There’s the token rich girl in unsuitable clothing, for example, and though the film acknowledges that was the filmmakers’ intention, there’s not much that she does that’s humorous beyond merely existing, and some of the rest of these kids get even less development than that. I actually wish that we’d been allowed to spend more time with them, as I’m certain more humor could’ve been rung out from this setup, but I get what they’re doing here, too, since horror films rarely spend much time with the villains, and they do end up playing that role. Jesse Moss, the guy playing Chad, by the way, is a tad over-the-top, but I mostly didn’t have a problem with it, since he gets a few good laughs, too.
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil isn’t going to overshadow more well-known horror comedies and satires like Scream, The Cabin in the Woods, or Shaun of the Dead, but it’s entertaining and likable enough that it most definitely deserves to outshine some of the other ones that come down the pipeline and somehow make a relative ton of money, like A Haunted House or the Scary Movie series. Much like its characters, this film may not be the smartest or most graceful thing you’ll have spent your time with, but when you do and get to know it, it’s going to be hard coming away from it not liking it quite a bit, all the same.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 3.5 / 5