CATEGORIES Comedy, Horror, Independent, Sundance, Theatrical Reviews, Reviews, Sundance Film Festival, Cinematical
Horror comedies aren't anything new, but really good ones are rare. Shaun of the Dead set the high water mark for that niche genre. I was going to say there haven't been any really good ones since then, but then I was reminded that Zombieland came out recently. Duh. But that doesn't lessen the impact of Tucker & Dale vs. Evil at all. I had to pinch myself several times during this movie to remind myself I wasn't at a Fantastic Fest screening, because it seemed like somehow it had snowed in Austin and I was watching this at the Alamo Drafthouse. That's the kind of movie it is (read: awesome).
The story in this movie is simple: two hillbillies on vacation in the woods are mistaken for psycho killers by a group of college kids. That's it. On paper that might sound like it would be hard to sustain for the length of a feature film, but it worked. In fact it worked so well that they could trim a few scenes, as it felt slightly too long. However, the comedy team-up of Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine really sold this film. Director Eli Craig needs to be handed an award for putting these two in a movie together as best friends who just happen to seem like extras from Deliverance.
Alan Tudyk (probably best known to fanboys and girls around the world as Wash from the cult hit Firefly) plays Tucker, while Taylor Labine (Sock from the CW's Reaper) plays his buddy Dale. Normally I'd say dimwitted buddy Dale, but neither one of them are that smart. Dale is definitely the less brainy of the two, but he has a near-autistic ability to remember anything he hears, which of course comes in handy later. The two of them are heading up to Tucker's newly-purchased vacation cabin to get away from ... whatever it is hillbillies do for regular jobs.
By chance they cross paths with a bevy of up and coming Hollywood younglings who play the frat boys and sorority girls that are heading out into the woods for a camping trip, and the standouts among them include Katrina Bowden (better known as the blonde airhead assistant from 30 Rock) as Alison and Jesse Moss as frat-douche extraordinaire Chad. Dale's awkward attempt to hit on the girls comes across as a notch or two above deranged psycho killer, and they go their separate ways.
That is until Dale and Tucker end up, somewhat accidentally, spying on the group while they skinny-dip in the lake. When they startle Alison in mid-stripdown, she stumbles and falls into the lake and knocks herself unconscious. Tucker and Dale might be hillbillies, but they have hearts of gold, so they pull her into their boat and wave to the rest of the group. "WE HAVE YER FRIEND!" shouts Dale, inciting panic amongst the remaining swimmers who flee, thinking Alison has been taken by psychotic killers.
Which, of course, she hasn't. But the rest of the film continues to play up that idea, and what seems like a light-hearted comedy quickly turns a corner when people actually do start dying, and in extremely gruesome ways. Wood chippers, weed whackers, and shoddy construction work all start taking people out left and right, although you're laughing in a macabre fashion with each new death. There are scenes lifted straight out of Friday the 13th, Evil Dead, and others, but the writing is so good that it's homage instead of outright theft. The script veers left at every stereotype, and it's a rollicking good time.
Hearing Tyler Labine shout "Bring it, Frat Bitch!" is utterly satisfying, and that should become the slogan for this movie. Tudyk and Labine work so well together in this that I hope there's a sequel, even though this hasn't been picked up yet. Cross your fingers to bring it to a theater near you.