Watching Tusk, it's difficult not to think that Smith has crawled into the dark hole of Human Centipede territory. Supplementing gross-outs and physical mutilation with splashes of pseudo-philosophizing, Smith tells the story of Wallace Bryton (Justin Long), a podcaster who seems to delight in making fun of people.
Bryton and his on-air sidekick (Haley Joel Osment) call themselves members of the Not See party, a bad joke from a couple of guys who don't seem especially funny, but who consistently crack each other up.
Glib and self-satisfied, Bryton travels to Canada to interview a young man who sliced off his leg making a Kill Bill-style video that went viral on You Tube.
When Bryton arrives in Canada, he discovers that his Kill Bill subject has committed suicide. In the restroom of a bar, a dejected Bryton sees a letter tacked to a bulletin board, inviting all comers to visit a remote mansion to hear adventure stories.
Badly in need of a podcast subject, a curious Bryton answers the call.
The movie adopts horror movie overtones when Bryton meets Howard Howe (Michael Parks), an eloquent man who gives him drugged tea and employs surgical procedures to turn him into (wait for it) a walrus.
At first, it seems as if Howard is a self-appointed avenger for Bryton's cruelty. But that thread unravels, leaving us to wonder whether Smith has anything more in mind than shocks bolstered by occasional ramblings about whether humans are nothing more than sadistic animals.
Bryton's girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) and his partner (Osment) eventually begin a search for the vanished podcaster.
En route, they encounter an uncredited star, who plays a French-Canadian detective with a variable accent. (It's easy enough to figure out who's playing detective Guy Lapointe. Just search around a bit.)
Smith tries to temper the movie's macabre tendencies with a bit of humanizing end-of-picture emotion, but if you stick around for the final credits, you'll hear the director discussing a possible ending with a laughing colleague.*
They're both mightily amused in a smug way that undermines any emotion Smith might have achieved.
Say this, though: If Smith buckled down, he might have some serious horror chops.
*Smith reportedly conceived of Tusk after a podcast in which he and his producer Scott Mosier discussed an ad they'd seen in which a man offered free living space to anyone who'd agree to dress up as a walrus. Smith then asked his Twitter followers to vote on whether this crazy idea should be turned into a movie. The "yes" votes won. The ad evidently was a prank.