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rochefort [Film Festival 03.18.10] movie review horror comedy

Year: 2009
Directors: Eli Craig & Morgan Jurgenson
Writers: Morgan Jurgenson
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: rochefort
Rating: 7 out of 10

A group of college kids take a trip into the backwoods for a weekend of sex and swimmin', only to find their numbers dwindling as one by one, they succumb to gory deaths. Are they victims of the hillbillies they encountered at a nearby gas and bait store? Well, no, and we're all better for it. "Tucker and Dale vs. Evil" stars Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine, respectively, as the titular hillbillies in a comedy of errors that puts a welcome, often funny, and extremely bloody spin on the overworked redneck slasher formula. File under "Why hasn't somebody thought of this already?"

There have been numerous horror comedies that take a lighter approach to the tried-and-true hostile redneck subgenre, and just as many that incorporate slapstick to distance themselves from their more intense parents like "Deliverance" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre". But rarely, if ever, have they focused on sending up the requisite tropes while simultaneously giving a sympathetic spotlight to the dirty-toothed, overall-wearing country-folk. Labine and Tudyk play Tucker and Dale as lovable bumblers, sweet-natured guys who just want to fish, drink beer, and clean up their "vacation home" (a dead ringer for "Evil Dead"'s dilapidated cabin). Oh, and talk about why they never score with cute girls. Their relationship definitely bears a resemblance to that of Fred Ward and Kevin Bacon in "Tremors", and in a good way; they have the same sort of easy charm, their friendship wholly convincing. And even though Tudyk and Labine each take major liberties in their performances with the very definition of the word "hillbilly", each coming off more like a genuinely nice (if somewhat clueless) good ole boy, they still dirty up a bit more than their cinematic forebears, which is just a fancy way of saying they don't have expensive haircuts. The drawls are light and barely register, and this is one of those little details that I found additionally rewarding, especially since the pic is set in West Virginia. Too often with depictions of 'necks, filmmakers stick them with the most corrosive Arkansas hack or Georgia drawl regardless of where the story's actually set, and the fact that director Eli Craig doesn't bother with that nonsense adds to the reasons we quickly come to like the two leads.

Not surprisingly, the college kids are a lot less likable, and their snooty dismissal of Tucker and Dale kicks off the series of misinterpretations and ill-conceived retaliations that lead to the bloodletting. Only Katrina Bowden, as the pretty but slightly weird girl who doesn't really relate to the other popular kids, registers real charisma. Normally, this would be a strike against the movie, but in "Tucker" seems not only completely intentional, but entirely consistent with the themes of privilege, tolerance and snap judgments. I don't want to get too carried away with overly-academic talk of subtext (though I probably will anyway); the main agenda here is fun, after all. But the handling of the attractive "victims" is (I think) an accidentally brilliant one. We're used to seeing soap opera wannabe's paraded across the screen just prior to being dispatched by Jason or Freddie or Michael, but in the end our choices of who to root for tend to be pretty psychologically skewered, and this often includes the horror comedies. You can either relate to the mass murderer with the hatchet or the vapid trust fund baby with the fake-boobed cheerleader girlfriend. By contrast, "Tucker", with its oddly humanistic leanings, inadvertently calls out a lot of slasher pics old and new as being little more than simulated snuff. Not bad for a movie that was led-in by footage from "Hee Haw".

Speaking of gore, consider this another one of the post-"Shaun of the Dead" horror comedies that fully embraces the standards of both genres from which it pulls, which means the gore is given the same level of attention as the jokes, and even turns out to be a little groundbreaking, and not just in terms of the quality of the effects themselves. There are some great "kills" here, and since the majority of them amount to accidental suicides, you can't help but view them in a altogether different light. Even "Zombieland" required an extra level of suspension of disbelief to disassociate the comedy from all the trauma that should result from shooting so many dead people in the head, but here the gorier laughs come as much from the absurdity of the situation as the outrageousness of the violence. It's so rare that you find a movie this simultaneously bloody and gentle (at least in terms of intent), that it could be the start of its own sub-subgenre. I dunno, call it "hug horror" or something. Consider this one highly recommended. For my money, it's easy to like a movie in which the underlying theme is that you can't judge a book by its cover, because if you do you might end up face down in a wood chipper.

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