Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Film Review - Tucker & Dale vs Evil

Tucker & Dale vs Evil is a film which seems set on basing itself firmly in the deliberate subversion of some fairly standard genre tropes.

We have a group of college students heading off for a camping trip in the woods. We have a pair of hillbillies in a run-down cabin, nearby. And, we have the seemingly inevitable conflict when the two groups cross paths. Of course, this time, the escalating violence and mayhem is the result of a simple misunderstanding, rather than overt villainy.

Tucker and Dale (Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine) are long-time friends, just looking to spend some time fixing up the dilapidated cabin which serves as their 'vacation home'. They are, naturally, excited by the prospect - set on getting their cabin fixed up, but with plenty of time still set aside for fishing, and drinking beer. At the same time, though, a group of college students are also heading out a vacation of their own - one filled with beer, pot, and skinny-dipping.

The two group's first encounter ends badly for Dale, as his nervous, and very unsuccessful, attempt to speak to one of the college girls results in him coming across as intimidating - but, as bad as that was, there second encounter is much worse. Out for a bit of fishing at night, Tucker and Dale come across the college students engaged in a bit of skinny-dipping - Dale wants to leave, but Tucker is insistent that they stay and watch for a while. The pair make a bit too much noise, though, and their argument attracts the attention of Allison (Katrina Bowden) who, shocked by the sight of the two hillbillies watching her, falls into the water and hits her head on a rock. Tucker and Dale immediately leap to the rescue, pulling Allison out of the water and into their boat. Unfortunately, their noble efforts are seen by Allison's friends as a kidnapping, and the rest of the group run off before they can explain.

With no better solution, Tucker and Dale take Allison back to their cabin to treat her injury. But, unknown to them, the rest of the college kids rally behind Chad (Jesse Moss), their self-appointed leader, as he sets out to rescue her. And, from there, things begin to get completely out of hand.

Tucker & Dale vs Evil is a film which leans much more toward 'comedy' than 'horror'. Once things start to get out of hand for the two lovable hillbillies, it film doesn't shy away from showing the violent results - and, it does get bloody. But, much of the violence in the film is presented in a darkly comic way that effectively eliminates any shock value. A college student hurled head-first into a wood chipper, for example, would be horrifying - but, a college student hurling himself into a wood chipper when the person he was leaping toward happens to bend over at the worst possible moment is basically 'slapstick'. And, that's just the sort of film that Tucker & Dale vs Evil is. It's 'comedy' first - with 'horror' coming a distant second.

The film's cast is also pretty great, overall - with Tucker and Dale, themselves, standing out as extremely likable protagonists. Even before the action starts, there is still a great deal of joy in simply watching the pair banter and bicker with each other. I have to admit that I probably would have been just as happy watching a film based around the relatively mundane comic adventures of these two just trying to fix up their 'vacation home'.

Apart from Chad and Allison, who each receive a fair bit of focus, the rest of the group of college kids remain little more than vaguely defined stereotypes who could have walked in from any other, similar, film. Of course, this was entirely intentional - and, the performances given by the young cast, here, manages to come across as entertaining parody, rather than laziness. They may not have much to work with, but they each play their part well, and it all serves to establish the film's overall tone of blood-fuelled hilarity.

There are a couple of points that let the film down for me, though. The first problem I had was with Allison, herself - not the character, or the actress who plays her, who were both fine, but with the way that she was used in the film. Allison is, ultimately, little more than a fairly standard damsel in need of rescuing by the end of the film. Similarly, the plot-thread centred around a romance developing between her and the 'nice guy' who saved her life also feels fairly conventional.

On a similar note, the film gets a fair bit of its comedy mileage, early on, out of deliberately avoiding giving us any sort of clearly defined 'villain' - instead, milking the various misunderstandings, and the violence that resulted from them, for some great, if dark, humour (in fact, this seemed like it was intended to be the entire point of the film, for its first half). But, as the film progresses, we are ultimately given a clear villain in the form of Chad, who becomes increasingly deranged and violent - until, toward the end, things shift back into familiar 'slasher film' territory. Just with the expected roles reversed, this time. Though, to be fair, Chad does also make a convincing villain - not truly intimidating, sure (perhaps understandable, given the film's clear preference for 'comedy' over 'horror'), but definitely entertaining.

I wouldn't go as far as to claim that either of these points truly bothered me to any great extent, though - that wouldn't be accurate. Instead, I was simply left a little disappointed that a film which set about deliberately subverting some of the standard conventions of the genre early on would then go on to wilfully embrace others. That being said, though, I'm also fully aware that these points are also little more than my own nit-picking. Tucker & Dale vs Evil is a fantastic film, overall - and, one that is well worth your time.

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