Mark Reviews Movies

Tucker and Dale vs Evil


2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Eli Craig

Cast: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss, Philip Granger, Brandon McLaren, Christie Laing, Chelan Simmons, Travis Nelson, Alexander Arsenault, Adam Beauchesne, Joseph Sutherland

MPAA Rating: R (for bloody horror violence, language and brief nudity)

Running Time: 1:29

Release Date: 9/30/11 (limited); 10/7/11 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | October 6, 2011

A group of dumb college kids finds themselves at odds with a pair of creepy rednecks, who, the students are convinced, want to kill them. The kids don't mention a single horror movie throughout the course of Tucker and Dale vs Evil, but it's pretty clear they have grown up watching this sort of scenario play out over and over again in the theater and on their televisions. When you see two men, who had been staring at you at an old, rundown gas station, haul off one of your friends in a rowboat, there are plenty of reasons to be suspicious of their intentions, even if you've never sat through a single movie where sinister backwoods folk rip and tear people to shreds in all sorts of grotesque ways just for the fun of it.

Co-writer/director Eli Craig's movie is a clever reversal on the situation. As the college kids go a little mad because of their deep-seated prejudice, the two bumbling hillbillies spend what should be a relaxing holiday weekend of fixing up their new vacation home, fishing, and drinking beer instead avoiding deranged attacks and cleaning up the aftermath of stupid kids leaping and lunging to their accidental, gruesome deaths. It's a comedy of errors with a high body count.

Nine college students are packed into a van on their way to a camping trip. Their names, of course, are unimportant, though Chad (Jesse Moss) is the leader of the pack. He has a thing for Allison (Katrina Bowden), a pretty blonde with aspirations of helping the problems of the world by becoming a therapist. The rest (played by Brandon McLaren, Christie Laing, Chelan Simmons, Travis Nelson, Alexander Arsenault, Adam Beauchesne, and Joseph Sutherland), as it typically the case in such affairs, serve no greater purpose than to eventually die. Personality-wise, they are solely a collective of clichéd traits and college concerns; the biggest threat to their expedition comes when one of them realizes they've forgotten the beer (leading to a shared shout of "No!").

At the local gas station, Allison meets Dale (Tyler Labine), a husky, quiet man in overalls and wearing a baseball hat. He stares at her from the other side of the aisle where she's shopping. Making matters worse, he approaches her outside (while carrying a scythe, no less), where the rest of Allison's friends insist they get out of there as quickly as possible.

The whole event is a huge misunderstanding, and it turns out that Dale simply has a little crush. His best friend Tucker (Alan Tudyk) insists it has nothing to do with him; those college kids are just a bunch of know-nothings, anyway. Dale is a good-enough-looking guy with good heart, Tucker says to console his buddy. They're soon off into the woods, where Tucker and Dale's dream of a summer home awaits: a dilapidated old building full of cobwebs, loose supports (A dangerous falling beam with nails sticking out of it is sure to come into play later), and newspaper clippings of the horrific murders of decades past. 

Through a series of further mishaps and confusions, Allison winds up in Tucker and Dale's care, while her friends are convinced the two have diabolic plans in store for her and, later, the rest of them. The trick to Morgan Jurgenson and Craig's screenplay is in keeping the two parties separated for as long as possible, so as to establish Tucker and Dale's oblivious innocence and to allow the college students' paranoia to grow to outlandish proportions. A sweet little romance blooms between Allison, who quickly wises up after spending some time with him, and Dale, who counters the skepticism of her career ambitions from everyone whom she's ever met. Chad, meanwhile, fueled by a sense of entitlement to the girl he fancies and a back story that ties into a campfire tale about a mass murder that occurred in the same woods just before he was born, becomes the develops into the monstrous figure of torture and bloodlust that he has convinced the rest of his companions Tucker and Dale must be.

Craig and Jurgenson have an informed understanding of the fundamental elements of the genre and find amusing ways of subverting them. Most of the humor is of the gallows variety, with Craig establishing the various means of dispatching his basically anonymous fodder far in advance. There's a lot of discomforting mileage he gets out of Tucker working with a wood chipper, and each head-first dive into dangerous terrain leads to the eruption of shocked laughter (though Craig's reliance on realistic gore effects lessens the gags a bit). The local Sheriff (Philip Granger) makes a horrifying discovery, and Tucker explains the matter from his perspective (It would be perfectly reasonable if it didn't sound so implausible).

The conflicting perceptions are key to the comedy, so it's really no surprise that when Craig and Jurgenson's screenplay narrows the divide between the two groups, essentially giving the truly ignorant characters the upper hand, the novelty of the setup starts to wear thin. The final acts of Tucker and Dale vs Evil find the movie falling into the trap of using the same conventions (e.g., the unstoppable killer) it so jovially and brutally skewers prior.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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