Face-Off: Red State vs. Tusk

After a couple decades of focusing primarily on comedy, Kevin Smith has been branching out into horror territory in recent years, making movies about monsters and madmen. His third such film, YOGA HOSERS, is set to reach theatres this Friday, September 2nd, which gave me an opportunity I was glad to pursue - the chance to have his two previous genre films, 2011's RED STATE and 2014's TUSK, face off with each other. Both are crazy movies that feature the great Michael Parks as the villain, but they have very different stories and styles. They're divisive films that I happen to greatly enjoy, and as I began this Face-Off I really didn't know which movie might come out on top.
RED STATE was heavily inspired by real people and true incidents. The villains, the Coopers, are a fictional twist on an actual religious group that blames the homosexual lifestyle for everything terrible in the world. The Coopers go much farther than the people who inspired the story, though, stockpiling weapons and executing those who don't live up to their standards. As the story goes on, they find themselves in the middle of a siege that, while not being based on actual events, has shades of the incidents at Waco and Ruby Ridge.
The absurd concept of TUSK has no basis in reality. The story was crafted by Smith and his friend Scott Mosier during a podcast, inspired by an ad (which turned out to be a hoax) in which an elderly man was offering a place to stay in exchange for a favor: the lodger would occasionally have to put on a walrus costume for his entertainment. TUSK twists that idea into something horrific. The walrus-man in this film isn't volunteering to get into the costume, he is forced into it, his body surgically altered to make him more walrus-like.
There are no truly likeable characters in RED STATE; all are deeply flawed in one way or another, they all do or say despicable things. The characters we follow into the Cooper compound are three teenage boys on a quest to get laid, specifically to gangbang an older woman. Graphic sexual dialogue is common in a Kevin Smith film, but this trio goes beyond the pale - the way they view and discuss sex is appalling. They don't deserve what they get, but they are an awful group of guys.
You gain sympathy for Wallace Bryton because of what he endures as his captor mutilates his body and forces out his humanity, but he is not a good guy. He was already losing humanity after gaining success with his podcast, becoming an arrogant, lying, cheating scumbag. His podcast partner and his girlfriend Ally are sleeping together behind his back, but Wallace is such a jerk that you understand why, and the soulful Ally comes off as being the most likeable character in the film.
Michael Parks' performance as fire and brimstone preacher Abin Cooper is a tour de force. This is a man who has a down-home charm and a clear love for his family (who are also his parishioners), but is brimming with hate for the world. The standout scene for Parks is a Cooper sermon that lasts for around 15 minutes and culminates in an execution, and while the character is saying repugnant things, the actor is captivating. It's also fun to see Parks let loose during the extended showdown with the ATF later on.
Howard Howe's parents were murdered when he was a child and he has been lost ever since, having gone through a nightmarish experience as a Duplessis Orphan. The highlight of his life was when he spent months shipwrecked with only a walrus to keep him company, and now he's trying to replicate that companion. TUSK is a showcase for Parks, who is given a lot of dialogue and monologues to deliver. There is a gravity to Howe, but the man is also completely nuts, and it is a delight to watch Parks portray his insanity.
As soon as ATF Agent Joseph Keenan appears on screen, you want to latch onto him because he's played by John Goodman, a man with a magnetic screen presence. But like everyone in RED STATE, he is a questionable character, willing to be complicit in an indiscriminate massacre just to keep his job. He has a depth to him, and at times tries to do the right thing, but those attempts come too late for some.
For many, disgraced Québécois homicide investigator Guy Lapointe is a deciding factor in whether or not they enjoy TUSK. This quirky character, played by Johnny Depp through some ridiculous makeup, isn't particularly bright and can slow a scene to a crawl with the way he speaks, but he does turn out to be somewhat capable, and he is a good guy who is dedicated to stopping Howe's killing spree.
I find RED STATE to be a deeply unnerving film because it is so firmly rooted in real world issues. People like the Coopers do exist, and that is troubling and frightening. I have actually had a RED STATE nightmare, in which I was trapped in the Cooper compound during that climactic action sequence. Some debate RED STATE's status as a horror film, but there's no question in my mind that it's horror.
I find TUSK to be highly amusing. The idea of being surgically mutilated into a walrus monster is horrifying, but while the sight of that monster is very gross, I also think it is hysterically funny. While I'm laughing my way through the movie, others I've shown it to have been deeply disturbed by it. It is a weird, disgusting, out there film, and I love that it can be traumatic for one person and a laugh riot for another.
There is a lot of hate out there for RED STATE and TUSK, but I have a deep love for both of these films. They're weird, they're disturbing, they're violent, they're unique, and Michael Parks is incredible in both of them. It was a hard fought battle, but when the score is tallied TUSK pulls off the win partly because it is so gleefully absurd and partly because there is more heart evident in its characters.

What do you think of the result of this Face-Off? Would you give TUSK the win, or do you think RED STATE should have won? Do you love these movies like I do, or do you have a negative opinion of them? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. If you have any suggestions for future Face-Off articles, you can send me an email at [email protected].



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