REVIEW: Clever Horror Premise Fails Tucker & Dale vs Evil Halfway Through

Movieline Score: 6

While it's not quite enough to fuel a whole feature, the premise of Tucker & Dale vs Evil is a slice of meta-genre brilliance: What if the creepy, forbidding locals who always glare so unwelcomingly at slasher movie protagonists on their way to their haunted mansions and creepy cabins in the woods were actually just misunderstood? What if they were only trying to make conversation, and it's the college students/horny teenagers/yuppie vacationers who rush to judge and act hostile and end up dying in the wilderness? In a particularly nice touch, the hillbilly heroes of this horror-comedy (which leans far heavier toward the latter half of that equation) are actually headed to a weekend getaway themselves. Tucker (Alan Tudyk) has saved up enough to buy a "fixer-upper," a dilapidated cabin that evidence indicates might have once belonged to a psycho killer -- but hey, it's on a lake.

Tucker's brought his best friend Dale (Tyler Labine) along to check out the place and do a little fishing, but while stopping at the gas station they cross paths with a group of college students on spring break, among them the pretty Allison (_30 Rock_'s Katrina Bowden) and the macho Chad (Jesse Moss). The kids have stopped to stock up on beer, and find Tucker and Dale and the whole location "sooo creepy" (for possibly good reason -- what kind of convenience store carries six-pound jars of pickled eggs like the one Dale buys?). They turn out to be staying on the shores of the same lake as Tucker's new cabin, and a late-night encounter in the water leads to a string of amusingly unlucky mishaps that have the college kids convinced the pair of rednecks are out to get them.

Tucker & Dale vs Evil, which marks director/cowriter Eli Craig's feature debut, is at its cleverest in setting up these moments of misunderstanding that leave Tucker and Dale looking like iconic horror-movie psychopaths while having no idea how they're coming across -- who knew that the phrase "We've got your friend!" was so context-dependent? I don't want to give too much away, because how these bits unfold is a large part of their fun, but in that early sequence getting gas, Dale gazes admiringly at Allison until Tucker suggests he go over and talk to her. "Whatever you say, just smile and laugh -- it shows confidence," he advises, which is how the nervous Dale ends up approaching the kids while holding a scythe and maniacally cackling, "You guys... going camping?!"

The casting of seemingly perpetual comic relief sidekicks Labine, (the jackass friend in shows like Reaper and Mad Love) and Tudyk (memorable in goofball roles like Dodgeball's Steve the Pirate and Firefly's Wash) as the trucker-hat sporting, overall wearing, PBR-drinking pair (who'd fit in just as well at a hipster dive bar) does add another Harold and Kumar-esque layer to the film -- they're familiar faces, but not ones we've come to expect to see in lead roles. But as the POV shifts continues, we're shown it's the bumpkins who are actually kind, concerned and into board games, and the college kids who are aggressive, frat house jerks ("You're either Omega Beta or a freak!").

Tucker & Dale vs Evil starts to run out of steam about halfway through -- the film noticeably stretches to fill the second half with attempted sit-down détentes between our heroes and the surviving campers (who are a seriously fragile, accident-prone bunch) and overexplanations about the divide between hillbilly and college student as if they were two separate breeds of human. Backstory involving one character's history with the cabin also feels like filler there to pad things out to 80 minutes. If you're seeing this as the midnight movie it's destined to best be experienced as, you could safely drift off after the 45-minute mark, as we get into more standard showdown territory, albeit with the usual sympathies switched. Even the most self-aware experiment in tweaking genre conventions tends to fall back on them in the end, though Tucker & Dale vs Evil makes good on its initial concept to be worth a look, especially when surrounded by a slasher-flick-loving crowd.



Comments

  • Tommy Marx says:

    I was a little bit sad to read this review. I've actually been looking forward to seeing this, although more as a rental than a theater experience. Still, I'm gonna see it anyway. I just think the concept is too great not to give it a chance. :-)

  • Mark It Right says:

    Watch this movie! You will laugh out loud. I found this review gave away some of the surprise. I knew nothing about it when I first watched it. It's more comedy than horror. I would say it's a comedy with gory deaths. If seeing blood bothers you, be ready to put your hands over your eyes, but still watch the rest.

  • Rosie says:

    This movie is truly the funniest best movie I have seen in a long time.
    Not only are Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine amazing. The whole movie
    really flowed well, it felt smooth not like this part then this part
    and now this part. The pacing was good.
    The writing was excellent, so many absolutely hilarious lines I need to
    watch it again and again. The setting was good. I was afraid it would
    be too gory and it is gory but it felt just the right amount and it was
    mixed in with funny. There were many emotions.
    Alan Tudyk is brilliant. He is an amazing character actor and I love
    watching him and seeing someone new he creates. Tyler Labine I have
    been noticing for a while. I love the heart he puts into his
    characters.
    I think what I loved the most from this movie is how much it made me
    laugh and how little it grossed me out. Perfect Halloween movie but not
    for kids because of all the deaths.
    Eli Craig I look forward to seeing more movies by you.
    Morgan Jurgenson awesome lines too many funny ones to remember.
    Alan and Tyler thank you so much for a great movie.
    College kids way to go!
    I left the movie feeling fully satisfied and happy that the movie was better than I even hoped for. I went with my Mom and younger sister and they both loved it as well.
    Rosie long time Alan Tudyk fan

  • Paul Mason says:

    This was a genuinely laugh out loud film pretty much all the way through, the quieter moments being useful recovery time. I've seen lots of movies that try to be this style and frankly this kicks them all into touch. 6/10 is a harsh score for a film that, of it's type, is much higher than average. Just watch it :)

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