Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil ***1/2
A group of college students are headed into the woods for a camping trip involving drinking, pot smoking, skinny dipping, flirting and general rest and recreation. Along the way they are passed by a pickup truck containing two obvious Hillbilly types – suspenders, flannel shirts, old baseball caps, drinking beer from the can while driving – and they get a little freaked out. Like us, they’ve seen “Deliverance” and every other Hillbilly-killer movie that’s come in its’ wake, from “The Hills Have Eyes” to “Dying Breed”. We’re in familiar territory, right? There’s gonna be some killing? Well, the latter is correct… but the former most definitely is not. “Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil” – a Canadian film, though the accents are all from the United States, as befits the genre – is actually not a Hillbilly horror film but a quite wonderful spoof, operating on two particular and complementary conceits: what if the Hillbillies were really nice – just misunderstood by outsiders – and what if we told this story from their point of view?
The following satire – only 89 minutes of it, which is about all you need – has way more than the average serving of laughs out loud, and even has a few of those laughs that go on and on, that hurt your gut. Of course, in spoofing the Hillbilly horror (sub) genre, there are certain tropes it has to follow, and blood and guts is one of them. The film is not afraid to get down and dirty with the gore, but every single gory moment is also a wildly funny one: gore is used only as a comedic device, never to gross us out. All the other tropes are represented (and joyfully spoofed) as well, including the classic physical spread of the college students (two blonds, one brunette; one black guy; one guy who looks like a young Tom Cruise), the spooky shack, skinny dipping: you name it, this movie’s got it, but the whole thing is deliriously inverted. As the title characters, Tyler Labine (whom I’m unfamiliar with) and the always funny and reliable Alan Tudyk (who I’m very familiar with) are terrific, playing every situation in unexpected – and unexpectedly touching – ways. A huge hit at the Sydney Film Festival, Australia’s getting the bloody fun of Tucker and Dale well in advance of its September 30th US release – albeit in limited distribution. It probably won’t be up your alley if you’ve never really seen or been a fan of Hillbilly horror, but if, for example, you enjoyed Shaun of the Dead, you’re almost certain to enjoy this. Eli Craig directs his debut feature with love and affection both for the genre and for his extremely entertaining characters.