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October 1, 2011

Review: Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

Posted by on Oct 1, 2011
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

Sometimes, to do justice to a work, you have to get into the nitty gritty and analyze the hell out of it. But sometimes, it doesn’t take all that much to explain what makes something awful or great. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is a blast. I’ll explain why for anyone who won’t take me at my most basic word, but there’s actually not much more to it.

The movie itself is a fairly standard comedic reversal of typical horror genre tropes. The college kids going on vacation in the woods come upon rednecks, whom they believe to be ominous. But Tucker and Dale, played by Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine, are actually just two friendly, if awkard, blue-collar guys also going on vacation. When one of the kids, played by Katrina Bowden, gets scared by the two buddies and falls unconscious into the lake where her friends are skinny-dipping (cuz it’s a horror movie), what Tucker and Dale intend as a rescue is seen by the group as a kidnapping.

And that’s where it all goes downhill. The attempt by the kids to rescue their friend and mete out frat-boy justice to the duo turns into a long (but far from tedious) run of hilariously dark accidental deaths. This is made possible because Tucker and Dale just bought their run-down, creepy vacation house, and so they have a multitude of extremely dangerous implements with them for fixing up the cabin. Each encounter becomes a brutally comic mini-Rube Goldberg machine. The movie doesn’t try to hide what’s coming. It lets you know exactly what’s going to happen, and so the fun isn’t in the surprise or even the execution (pun sort of intended), but in the reaction of the two hapless and incredibly sincere friends.

Tucker and Dale: making gruesome death hilarious since 2010.

The success of this movie is due largely to Tudyk and Labine. Alan Tudyk is wonderfully dark and comic all at the same time – anyone who has seen Firefly knows this – and so he is just about the perfect guy to cast in Tucker’s role. There’s a moment that Wash fans will recognize as a reference to the actor’s former role as Serenity’s pilot, and the movie uses it to manipulate audience expectations well. He’s the mentor to the even more awkward and timid Dale. I expected Tudyk to be good, but Labine is actually just as hilarious, in a more skittish and unsure way. He probably has the funniest line of the movie, and you’ll know it when you hear it. I was also surprised by his chemistry with Katrina Bowden, the concussed and then rescued love interest, Allison. The idea of the two of them working together seems quite silly on paper. But we find that Dale is actually a pretty smart guy, if entirely lacking confidence. And Bowden’s Ally is not some shallow girl who suddenly develops a desire to connect with those she previously judged to be frightening – she’s a psychology student with a preexisting and naively innocent desire to help people and make the world a better place, so this romance is entirely within the realm of possibility for her character. Now you won’t be watching this for the love story, you’ll be watching it for the death comedy – and man oh man are Tudyk and Labine funny. But it’s nice that the love story isn’t obnoxiously stupid to the point that it detracts from the movie.

This movie also has fun with other horror tropes. As it turns out, the black guy definitely does not die first. Honestly, the two African American characters are the most level-headed in the group, suggesting frequently that they just call the police, and calling the rest of the group out on their stupidity. Meanwhile, the white macho frat-boy leader of the group is obviously teetering on the edge of becoming a pretty typical horror villain. It’s fun to watch those interactions and see the writers messing with the cliches of the genre. There’s also a moment where hillbilly-ness becomes a sort of racial or societal divide to be faced or conquered or accepted, and the seriousness of the difference between sub-sections of the national population is belied by the hilarity of hearing “hillbilly” used like a serious, almost academic term.

All that is fairly secondary, though. The sheer silly coincidence of most of the deaths is made uproarious by the sincerity and wonderful comedic timing of Tucker and Dale. The film has been available On Demand for some time now, but it’s getting a limited release this weekend, with more theaters being added nationally as the month of October continues – you can check the list here. This is a great, great movie to go see with your horror-loving pals, or really just any pals that like to laugh, for the Halloween season.