Title: Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
Directed By: Eli Craig
Starring: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss, Chelan Simmons, Brandon Jay McLaren, Christie Laing, Travis Nelson, Alex Arsenault, Adam Beauchesne
In an industry with a tendency to use, reuse and then reuse yet again, a film that defies typical tactics is particularly exciting. In the case of Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, we don’t just get a piece that attempts to purport something new; we get something that takes a common horror movie element, pumps it full of absurdity, blood and even some heart, shakes it up and then hands over the result – a charming spoof that’s a blast to watch.
Decked out in overalls, plaid shirts and trucker hats with scruffy beards, Tucker and Dale (Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine) are your quintessential hillbillies. When a group of, well, quintessential college kids head out into the woods for a wild weekend, they take Tucker and Dale for just that, a pair of evil killers à la the slew of middle-of-nowhere horror movies. Meanwhile, all Tucker and Dale are trying to do is enjoy a relaxing weekend away while fixing up their new vacation home.
During a fishing break, Tucker and Dale catch the group enjoying a skinny-dipping soiree. When one of the bunch, Allison (Katrina Bowden), hits her head jumping into the lake, Tucker and Dale come to her rescue. However, all Allison’s buddies see is a pair of hillbillies dragging their lifeless friend out of the water. While Tucker and Dale try to nurse her back to health, the college kids arm up in attempt to rescue Allison. It’s one big misunderstanding with immensely bloody consequences.
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is a satire to the max. It’s branded a horror comedy and comes loaded with blood and guts, but the piece certainly puts more weight on its comedic side, a smart choice by writer-director Eli Craig. From the moment the film begins, Craig establishes a solid tone that signifies this is for fun, not for scares and, paradoxically, it’s something all horror fans will appreciate. How many times have we seen the violent hillbillies hack up the unsuspecting students? Time and time again, of course. The driving force behind Tucker & Dale is Craig and co-writer Morgan Jurgenson’s attempt to turn that cliché on its head and in that sense, the film is a total success.
Every single character is a hyper-stereotype. The way Tucker and Dale behave, dress and speak screams hillbilly and all of Allison’s, er, assets, peg her as the pretty college girl with a warm heart. Then there’s Chad (Jesse Moss), the leader of the college kids and the film’s most colorful character – even beyond his bright teal polo. By highlighting their all too familiar traits with the effort to flip-flop the classic hillbilly vs. kids shtick in the background, we actually wind up with a group of main players that feel rather fresh.
While most of Tucker & Dale is just fun and games, Craig does end up with two rather endearing leads. Even while painting Tucker and Dale as potential threats at the very beginning of the film, it doesn’t take long for these two misunderstood guys to creep right into your heart. Labine and Tudyk are so incredibly honest in the roles, it’s natural to go along with everything they do. Tucker’s name may come first in the title, but it’s Dale that runs the show. Both are sweet guys, but Dale is certainly the softer of the two and has the most to lose. Craig never lets Tucker fade into the background, but appropriately gives Dale the spotlight when necessary.
As for Bowden, her character doesn’t really transcend her typecast in any innovative ways, but she’s got enough chemistry with Labine to make the connection between Allison and Dale feel surprisingly authentic. While he may not be particularly endearing, Moss deserves a great deal of credit for his portrayal of Chad. Chad starts out as the typical cocky leader that takes it upon himself to keep an eye on the gang when the creepy hillbillies approach. He wraps the movie in an entirely different form and while the transformation is extreme, Craig and Jurgenson do take some very particular steps in attempt to get him there and it works. The character is an absolute blast and a great deal of the film’s fun comes from watching Moss bring him to life.
A major benefit of thinking through your story so meticulously and having a stellar concept is that it gives you a bit of leeway on the technical side. It’s quite clear that Craig was working on a budget. There’s some awkward coverage here. Some characters have chunks of their faces out of frame, some scenes only consist of two shots and there are a handful of edits that link two visuals that don’t match. Sounds like a killer right? Far from it. Unless you’re on the lookout for technical errors, the large majority of those issues will pass right by courtesy of a fun story and charming performances.
Similar to campy slasher flicks, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil isn’t something that’s going to change your life or make you think very much after the credits roll. However, what it does offer is 88 minutes of bloody fun and those 88 minutes could easily lead to the desire to return for a second viewing. Perhaps this one does have a bit to offer post credits after all!