December 4, 2011
From the outside, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is one of those projects that is conceived in sink or swim territory. I went into the film rather blind, avoiding trailers and reviews, so I went into the film knowing that a) it was one of those buddy horror comedies that have become so popular since Shaun of the Dead and b) it was pretty much loved by everyone who saw it. Still, I found myself a little worried about Tucker and Dale the film. Was there really any gas left in the horror comedy tank?
From the looks of things, it appears there is. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is packed to the brim with comedic charms and manic action, and the end result is a film that's about as fun as a movie can be.
As you can guess from the title, the film follows Tucker and Dale, two "hillbillies" who are heading into the woods to fix up a cabin that Tucker (the smarter of the duo, played by Alan Tudyk) has purchased as a vacation home. Dale (Tyler Labine) is his good-hearted and somewhat juvenile companion on this adventure (and yes, the film comes complete with awkward homosexual implications); a large, bearded fellow who has a steel trap memory and an awkward relationship with the ladies.
Speaking of ladies, the opposite side of the film features a group of "college kids" who are heading to the same lake to party. They encounter Tucker and Dale along the way, and do what most people who hold stereotypes about the mountainfolk of West Virginia would do: assume the worst. And, in this case, the worst is assuming that the simpleton fisherman and cottage enthusiasts are psycho mass murderers who are out to get them.
The characters aren't much more than those hillbilly and college kid stereotypes, but the actors' work helps freshen the material considerably. Tudyk is certainly going to be most recognizable to audiences after his work on Firefly/Serenity and his appearances in other mainstream films, and he does a good job playing the straight man to Labine's dale for most of the film. But Labine is the real star of the proceedings, with his childlike performance making him one of the most endearing horror heroes in a long time. His interactions with both Tudyk and Katrina Bowden, the sexpot blonde who plays the innocent college girl that falls into Tucker and Dale's laps, do a fantastic job of building him up as a hero, which makes the final act even more rewarding when it rolls around.
The acting from the younger members of the cast is about par for this type of film, though Jesse Moss - a veteran of Ginger Snaps and Final Destination 3 - is a welcome aggressor as the frat boy who turns violent when he thinks the title characters are up to no good. It's another simple, cliched character, but Moss provides a sinister smirk and is about as unlikable as Labine is likable.
The biggest surprise to me was the film's portrayal of its third title character: Evil. As a horror fan, I think I expected Tucker and Dale to face off against Kandarian Demons or mutant inbreds or something. Thus, the conflict between the two friends and the group of kids who are prone to flights of fancy is a welcome change of pace, especially because director Craig and co-writer Morgan Jurgenson present it with their tongues firmly in cheek. I was kind of surprised to see the plot play out the way it did, as the unlikely twists and turns definitely feel like a fresh addition to the horror comedy genre.
I've been beating this point into the ground, but there's simply no avoiding it: Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is ridiculously fun. The lead characters are fantastically realized, the college kids play their stereotype roles perfectly, and it all looks and sounds great. I suppose I could nitpick about some bad CGI, but its effect on the film is negligible. Tucker and Dale rock, their film rocks, and anyone who watches them come together is probably going to have a rocking good time. That's just all there is to say about Eli Craig's film: It's enjoyable and funny and kinda sweet and just plain awesome.