31 October 2011

TUCKER AND DALE VS. EVIL- Review

Happy Halloween! This time last year, I was advocating a frightful double bill of the Halloween anthology film Trick 'R' Treat and the bizarre, Snicket-infused scares of Burning Bright, and it's time once again for me to give a shout out to a film you can enjoy watching as October dwindles to a close. As with last year, it's more fun than frightening- a little film called Tucker and Dale vs. Evil.

In the vein of rubbishy mainstream horror films, this is a film in which a group of teens go camping in the woods, and meet grisly fates after encountering a pair of hillbillies in a rundown shack. However, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil actually takes place from the hillbillies' perspective. Tucker and Dale are renovating their holiday home in the woods, when they rescue an unconscious high school student, Allison, from drowning. This leads Chad, the prejudiced dickhead of the group, to mount a full-on rescue attempt, and our heroes are terrified by the sudden onslaught of seemingly suicidal kids.

Not since Shaun of the Dead have we seen a horror comedy as clever and as direct as this. Pretty much every horror comedy since Shaun strives for such praise, and usually suffers by comparison. This one doesn't, because it does for slasher movies what Pegg and Wright did for zombie movies. In its favour, it has identifiable characters, a wide genre literacy, and an unwillingness to forsake the scare value of the horror and the gore for the comedy. The horror is just as unflinching as the comedy is funny. And all the way through, it consistently up-ends your expectations of that old trapped-in-the-woods slasher flick- most obviously with its lead characters.

Tucker and Dale are unerringly sweet and decent guys, albeit with enough hillbilly sensibilities that they fit into certain expectations. Tyler Labine is the big, cuddly heart of the film as Dale, enamored of the blisteringly hot Allison and yet chronically shy. Tucker, played by Alan Tudyk, has made him so, whether intentionally or not, by his constant dominance in their friendship. I guess you'd call him the smart one, but for how his idea of a woodland dream home was decorated with newspaper cuttings about murder. This only gives weight to the outside perception of the pair, but their friendship is still touching and sympathetic.

And so, the more vicious character is Chad, played by Jesse Moss. Moss gives one of my favourite performances of the year, because it's such a pitch-perfect parody of the kind of character who uses the "evil" of his opponents as a licence to be an unmitigated arsehole in the course of his heroics. Or the "Shia LaBeouf", as I call it. Chad harbours a malice for hillbillies that is not totally irrational, and yet it still leads him and his fellow students into acts of fatal stupidity, to great comic effect.

The whole affair escalates into a farce of miscommunication, which Allison, gamely played by Katerina Bowden, tries to calm down. It's cold comfort to her friends, who repeatedly misunderstand innocent acts, like a screaming Tucker running through the forest with a chainsaw, and even less comfort to Tucker and Dale, who are terrified of what they believe to be a bunch of insane kids enacting a suicide pact on their property. The accidental death toll reaches heights so ridiculous as to be hilarious, but it's the believable reactions of the characters that maintain the precarious balance between horror and comedy.

You could do much worse than to take a look at Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, this Halloween. Instead of renting some terrible remake or other, or another horror film in which kids practically line up to die at the hands of some nihilistic characterless bastard with an axe, try a film that has tons of heart to go along with all of its expelled entrails. I can't say that it's as good all the way through as it is to begin with, but it gets the very best out of its high concept. It's an oddly humanist slasher flick, for the way in which it constantly subverts all of the stuff about horror that bores you, and instead brings forth the funny and the sweet.

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is now available to rent or buy, on DVD or Blu-ray
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If you've seen Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, why not share your comments below? And have a happy Halloween!

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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