Coming up with a fresh angle in which to tackle a new horror film is a taller order than one might think. "Tucker & Dale vs. Evil" manages this tough feat, and for that the feature writing-directing debut of actor Eli Craig (1999's "The Rage: Carrie 2
") is worth noting. A brazen, gory comedy of errors, the film gleefully subverts genre conventions and makes fun of xenophobic discrimination by wondering what might happen if a group of nubile, generally dim-witted young campers assumed that the two rednecks they'd run afoul of in the West Virginia wilderness were cannibalistic psycho killers. In actuality, they are just good ol' boys on a fishing trip, but once the college-aged kids allow preconceived notions into their minds it's all downhill from there. Before long, the lot of them are dropping like proverbial flies in the most inadvertent of ways when they set out to save nice girl Allison (Katrina Bowden) after she is thought to be captured. Really, Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are innocently nursing her back to health when she takes a nasty spill and hits her head. Alas, it simply doesn't help these guys' case that they've accidentally chosen a serial killer's cabin to stay at during their would-be tranquil getaway, complete with eerie criminal newspaper clippings on the walls and assorted bones hanging from the ceiling.
"Tucker & Dale vs. Evil" is more a cross between 2004's "Shaun of the Dead
" and 2007's "Hatchet
" than the crummy, convoluted recent "Creature
," and that's a very good thing. While the characters were certainly dumb in the latter picture, they were deficient because of the screenplay, not as a quirky, knowing comment on the kind of mincemeat often found in low-budget slashers. Here, director Eli Craig and co-writer Morgan Jurgenson are well aware of their destined victims' idiocy and have fun with this. They're the sort of kids whose first priority is skinny-dipping once they get to the lake (immediately after running into who they believe are two dangerous yokels at the nearby gas station, it should be added). Chad (Jesse Moss) alternates between taking hits from his joints and puffs from his inhaler. When he weaves a gruesome, tragic true tale for his buddies around the campfire about the infamous Memorial Day Massacre, they are joyously unphased. Later on, as the misadventures pile up, so do the bodies. One leaps to attack Tucker, misses, and gets eaten up in a buzzing woodchipper. Another is impaled on a sharp branch while trying to outrun a chainsaw-wielding Tucker, who is getting attacked by bees rather than chasing the kids. Of course, Tucker and Dale are clueless to their mistaken identity as homicidal maniacs. Exasperated at the carnage happening around them, Dale is finally driven to exclaim, "They're killin' themselves all over these woods." Indeed, they are, though not intentionally.
When it comes to "Tucker & Dale vs. Evil," viewers looking to be scared or even in suspense needn't apply. Humor-wise, it's more often of the smile-and-nod variety, though a few choice gags and misunderstandings are just crazy enough to evoke laughter. Where the film will please horror fans is in its keen understanding of what is expected of this kind of picture, followed by director Eli Craig's skewering of assumptions. That the surprisingly romantic ending closes things on a sweet note after nearly an hour and a half of bloodshed and lunacy is not easily predicted either, and works better than it should. More depth and levity to counterbalance the silliness would have lifted the project a notch above being a merely airy confection, but maybe next time. Make no mistake, "Tucker & Dale vs. Evil" is a total lark, yet it's also very clever. Real thought and ingenuity were brought to its making, and it shows.