Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
October 2011

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

Hillbilly heroes

'Tucker and Dale vs. Evil' runs amok across horror-movie cliches

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
Magnet Releasing
Director: Eli Craig
Screenplay: Eli Craig and Morgan Jurgenson
Starring: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss, Chelan Simmons, Brandon Jay McLaren and Philip Granger
Rated R / 1 hour, 29 minutes
Now playing in limited release and VOD
(out of four)

Hillbillies have been the uncivilized, horror-movie savage for long enough, always rudely targeting (and murdering) free-spirited college kids who just want to get drunk and get laid. It's fair to say we've seen almost every possible incarnation of this premise.

Well, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is here to set the record straight - or at least show us that when twentysomethings start showing up dead outside a run-down cabin in the middle of the woods, it doesn't necessarily mean the hillbillies with the chainsaw are responsible. To assume so would be profiling, and profiling is wrong. It might all be just a simple misunderstanding.

That is indeed the case with Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine), just a couple of innocent, well-meaning guys who happen to be victims of happenstance. No matter their intentions, they always seem to be making the wrong impression. Like when they save a beautiful coed named Allison (Katrina Bowden) from drowning, and her friends - who are out together on a weekend camping trip, needless to say - assume the hillbillies have kidnaped her with the worst of intentions.

Tucker and Dale uses every familiar setup of the genre - from the college kids who we all secretly (or not so secretly) hate and take pleasure in watching get massacred, to the inevitable Foreboding Gas Station scene, to the lone sheriff who gets unwittingly caught in a deadly situation - and twists the logic of each one. I enjoy the way it sticks to the expected script even in the smaller details - like early run-ins between the college kids and the hillbillies, where ambivalent glances and well-intentioned salutations are misinterpreted as threats. (The way Dale introduces himself to the college girls at the gas station is particularly funny.)

Self-conscious horror homage-comedies like this are nothing new, but the problem with so many of them is that they'll seemingly do anything for a laugh. They lack an aesthetic or even, sometimes, a target - they're just operating under the vague idea that they should be making fun of something.

Tucker and Dale, on the other hand, knows exactly what its sensibility is, and what its targets are. It is built on the turning-around of every recognizable scenario a horror story like this could come across. Traditional explanations are reversed, character archetypes shift roles and - because both the audience and the characters intuitively understand the expectations of the genre - every simple misunderstanding pushes the narrative logic further away from the truth. If that makes sense.

I also appreciate how the film opens with a brief scene mimicking the "POV camera" horror style, with a reporter (seemingly channeling the newswoman in [REC]) touring through the horrific crime scene (her cameraman filming in night vision, of course), only to get attacked by an anonymous person/creature before the film cuts to black and the opening credits roll.

Director/co-writer Eli Craig knows how to set up his comedy so that the jokes pay off. He gleefully plays with foreshadowing gimmicks, many of which eventually pay off in memorable fashion.

We get the requisite backstory from Allison about how she's studying psychology, so she can one day be a therapist specializing in conflict resolution - and Craig finds a way to use that later on. I can't tell you how many films I see with comic possibilities sitting right in front of them, that fail to use or even recognize them. I'm not saying Craig nails every gag or every setpiece - indeed, a few are awkwardly staged and/or run out of steam without really paying off - but he delivers on just enough of them to make the effort worthwhile.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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