Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 10/09/10 04:35:00

"When people use 'mayhem' to desribe comedies, it's seldom like this."
5 stars (Awesome)

SCREENED AT TERRORTHON 2010: There have been plenty of slasher comedies, especially since Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson made winking self-reference popular with "Scream". Few, however, have done such an entertaining job of marrying the genre with door-slamming farce, which is what you get with "Tucker & Dale vs Evil" - a snappy screwball comedy with a serious body count.

It begins, as many horror movies do, with a group of college kids heading out to do some camping in West Virginia. Chuck (Travis Nelson) is driving his dad's car, Chad (Jesse Moss) is hitting on Allison (Katrina Bowden); four other guys and two other girls are along for the ride. When they stop at a general store to stock up on beer, they bump into Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine), a couple of hillbillies on their way to their newly-purchased vacation home. A series of misunderstandings and prejudices soon has the college kids believing that the pair are redneck psycho killers, although the kids may be much bigger dangers to themselves.

Everybody has heard the line about how dying is easy but comedy is hard, and combining the two can be harder still. Writer/director Eil Craig and his writing partner Morgan Jurgenson play on certain familiar movie situations - there are two utterly hilarious bits of that at the general store, and the finale features a bit straight out of silents and Saturday serials - but instead of making their movie into a game of spot-the-reference, they find a nice middle ground between playing on broad caricatures and making their main characters, at least, individuals. They also do a fairly excellent job of escalating their comic misunderstandings in a way that stays believable even when people are winding up dead, all the way through to getting to the last act. It's a tricky transition that a lot of horror comedies don't manage, making their characters more active participants so that the story can have a proper conclusion without changing the tone drastically.

This being a horror comedy, there's a fair amount of gore, and the make up and effects guys do it well - Craig and company never go to the "look how bad this is done" well for parody with obvious dummies or excessive arterial jets. And while one of the most memorable promotional images has Tudyk and Labine dragging half a body around, a shot bloody and gross enough that I'm pretty sure the MPAA will nix it being used as a poster when the movie finally gets American distribution, Craig and editor Bridget Durnford are actually fairly sparing with how much they use the blood and guts: They don't want us to get used to it, or else the next person to get bumped off won't be quite so shocking and nervous-funny.

The most important thing that they do right, though, is casting. Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine are best known as ensemble players and scene-stealers, and sometimes putting that kind of actor in a leading role can wind up being too much of a good thing. That doesn't happen here, in part because there's enough of a division of labor with the college kids and in part because they're smart enough to not try and top each other. The script rarely has either character do anything purely out of stupidity, so there's room for Labine to make Dale sweet and Tudyk to make Tucker kind of passive-aggressive and have that just be part of their characters.

Right up there with them is Katrina Bowden, playing the girl whose rescue/kidnapping sets everything off. She plays well off both Labine and Moss, and is able to play her good-girl character as especially charming without making her a secret genius (aside from being good eye candy, she's quite funny when doing things like trying to get everyone to talk their problems out). She leaves most of the dumb-blonde bits to Chelan Simmons, who demonstrates that there is a bit of an art to looking ridiculous as she tries to escape pursuers in high heels. Travis Nelson is another comic standout among the college kids, chattering and worried about getting in trouble. Jesse Moss is playing the designated "intense guy", and while he occasionally raises the question of whether he's pushing that a bit more than necessary, he never goes quite so far as to break the carefully constructed mood.

That mood isn't so perfectly balanced that someone unfamiliar with slasher movies and their tropes can necessarily go into "Tucker & Dale" and love it as a screwball comedy with more dismemberment than usual, but it's not as far off as one might think. It's a very clever inversion of the slasher formula, serving up bloody absurdity without being particularly smug or sadistic about it.

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