Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss
(Magnet Releasing; US theatrical: 30 Sep 2011 (Limited release); 2010)
The redneck. The hillbilly. The sour son of the soil. It’s a cliché that’s been carefully conceived and crafted since the wooded areas of the Deep South were discovered to be full of rapists, killers, and psychopaths. Forever undone by James Dickey’s Deliverance (and John Boorman’s big screen adaptation) and twisted and turned into a myriad of bad jokes, the supposedly stupider, more sinister members of the closet Confederacy are now a genre given. Put a bunch of baffled teens in the middle of a dire Dixie situation, and they are bound to wind up dead…or at least, that’s the promising premise the hilarious Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is hoping you bring to the mix. With such a stunted mindset in place, this silly spook show satire becomes all the more magical.
After years of saving up, Tucker (Ala Tudyk) and his best buddy Dale (Tyler Labine) are headed up to their “vacation cabin” in the middle of the woods. There, they plan on drinking some beers and catching some fish. Unfortunately, while at the local general store, they run into a group of jaded college kids lead by the preppy Chad (Jesse Moss) and the sweetly innocent Allison (Katrina Bowden). These interscholastic idiots come to the conclusion that Tucker and Dale are dangerous inbred serial killers, and using all the lessons they learned from horror films, they intend on protecting themselves. Of course, our heroes are nothing of the sort, but that doesn’t matter. When they rescue Allison after a swimming accident and take her back to their rundown shack, the gang are livid. Suddenly, Chad wants to slaughter these kind, hardworking guys, even if it means getting the rest of his camping party killed.
From the very first moment we understand where Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is going, the smiling starts. Once the brilliant byplay between Tudyk and Labine settles in and the various assortment of archetypical old school fear factor fodder fester and then go gonzo, the grins get even bigger. This is clever, funny stuff, a buddy picture where the goal is not getting to the next town or making it to the meet before the end. Instead, co-writer/director Eli Craig and his partner Morgan Jurgenson dream up an amazing twist on a tired old truism, giving us two dirty bumpkins bedeviled by a bunch of smart alecky kids who think they know better, and die trying to prove it. This is an accidental slasher film, a piece of memorable macabre where the occasionally gory deaths mask a far more meaningful attempt at wit.
By turning the tables, so to speak, by making our typical terrors the clueless victims here, Craig and Jurgenson enliven a tired formula. With Tudyk and Labine in the role, the reinvention is even more memorable. These two are a perfect pair, a lunkhead and leader that really don’t mean anyone any ill will. All they want to do is work hard, play harder, and enjoy a life free from freaked out teenagers who think that all they care about is torture and terror. As recently as the rotten remake of Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, anyone below the Mason Dixon line has been portrayed as a predator, a bloodlusting lunatic who just can’t wait to unleash his or her own internal demons. Tucker and Dale are different. They are decent, not diseased. In fact, they so thoroughly thwart the stereotype that said stigma seems stupid.
It all goes back to Ned Beatty, bare-assed, being sexually assaulted in a Georgia clearing. Indeed, Deliverance doomed an entire population to a sketchbook description that almost always doesn’t fit. Add in TV, which takes concepts like the a ‘Big Redneck Wedding’ and turns them into snarky dismissals of eccentricity. Granted, few find the notion of serving squirrel and possum at their nuptials normal, but for a certain percentage of the population, raised in such a tradition, such choices make sense. It’s this approach, this hillbillies are people too platitude that shapes Tucker & Dale vs. Evil. It turns what could have been a exhausted, obvious statement into something that zings and zips along.
The acting on the part of Tudyk and Labine really sell the send-up. They don’t drawl like idiots or mangle the language in useless malapropisms. Instead, Tucker and Dale are just normal, intuitive guys. They enjoy board games and the occasional intellectualized pursuit. At heart, they’re not heroes or harmful, but they will stand up for what they think it right. By protecting Ally, they becomes suspicious. Why? Because in the world of this wacko movie, no one would go out of their way for anyone else. It’s a dog eat dog, cutthroat kind of situation, and the know it all college kids truly underestimate the extent of their own malevolence.
Craig is also excellent at channeling the genre’s best. When Tucker comes across a bee hive while cutting wood with a chainsaw, the resulting power tool dance it a cheeky check on a certain Leatherface and his Texas Chainsaw mania. Similarly, anytime there’s a cabin in the woods and a weird vibe surrounding it (they guys discover a wall set up as a kind of shrine to a long ago massacre), Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead is automatically riffed. Sure, the expected splatter is a little underwhelming. After an incident with a wood chipper, the rest of the deaths are bloody but basic. Indeed, if the movie has one flaw, it’s that it doesn’t go as overboard in the grue department as it does with its deconstruction of the standard scary movie tropes.
Perhaps the best criticism of Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is that it makes you want more…more of these two characters. More of them being mistaken for backwoods baddies…more of them reacting to said suggestion with shock and disgust. In a realm where it’s hard to create classic comic characters, this movie does so. We might laugh when Tucker and Dale are misidentified and mistreated. Why we giggle says more about us - and the target of this take-off - than it does about a certain population of people.