"Oh hidy-ho officer, we've had a doozie of a day. There we were minding our own business, just doing chores around the house, when kids started killing themselves all over my property."
Tucker (Alan Tudyk)
Eli Craig, occasional actor (The Rage: Carrie 2 [1999 / trailer]) and the youngest son of Sally Field, makes his feature-length directorial debut with an extremely sovereign piece of bloody fluff that takes the piss out of the conventions of the teenage bodycount and killer hillbilly film genres. With a directorial debut as fun as this one, one gets the feeling Craig could have a viable future ahead of him...
In truth, the opening scene of Tucker and Dale vs. Evil – an obvious homage and persiflage of both the ever-popular introductory death scene of dead teenager films as well as the generic Blair Witch Project (1999) through-the-viewfinder technique – doesn't help to build any faith in that which is to come during the rest of the film, but the expectation of a dud that the first scene instigates is quickly dissipated once the film rolls back time and begins its main narrative. (The opening scene of the film actually takes place after the end of the story.)
As in a thousand of other films – dozens of which you find reviewed in this blog – the main story of Tucker and Dale vs. Evil opens with a scene introducing those you would expect to be the true protagonists of a normal dead teenager film: a gaggle of fun-loving (over-aged) generic teenagers (complete with the mandatory Afro-American pair) on the way to the always deadly campout in them-thar hills. And as they drive down that country road, they are passed by two glaring, generic horror-film hillbillies in a typically battered hick pickup, the eponymous Tucker (Alan Tudyk of Death at a Funeral [2007 / trailer]) and Dale (Tyler Labine of Evil Alien Conquerors [2003 / trailer]). At the next pit stop, the film segues wonderfully from the viewpoint of teenagers – who feel as if they're surrounded by a dangerous mass of in-bred West Virginian murderers – to that of the backwoods inhabitants, who simply view the teens with the normal curiosity one has for strangers or, in the case of Dale, with total infatuation at the beauty of the gals – specifically, one gal: Allison (Katrina Bowden of The Shortcut [2009 / trailer]).
But Dale's emboldened attempt to introduce himself goes hilariously awry, to his total ignorance of why, and, from the viewpoint of the teens, in a manner that indicates that hillbillies are indeed psychos. The teens head for the hills in terror, and the best buds Tucker and Dale head on up to Tucker's recently bought "fixer-upper", a wreck of a lakeside mountain cabin that looks as if it was decorated by Leatherface, to drink beer, fish, eat grits, fix-up the grounds and have a good time. But a late-night fishing excursion disturbs the nearby teens as they are doing what teens do – skinny-dipping – and the demurely bedecked Allison almost drowns, only to be saved at the last second by Dale. Her friends, however, think that that the hicks have kidnapped Allison and plan to kill her. The misunderstandings and misinterpretations increase and the college students, in their desperate attempts to save their classmate, and to the baffled horror of Tucker and Dale, kill themselves one by one...
With the exception of Allison and the eventual evil of the film's title – Chad (Jesse Moss of Ginger Snaps [2000 / trailer] and the forgettable Final Destination 3 [2006 / trailer]) – the teens are as attractive and bland and interchangeable as in the average slasher, less real people than types; but for a change, this feels intentional and serves only to underscore their judgmental superficiality. Tucker and Dale, on the other hand, have definite character and over the course of the film become the most likable a pair of redneck losers since, say, Earl (Fred Ward) and Valentine (Kevin Bacon) of Tremors (1990 / trailer).
The film itself is well shot and tightly edited, with a narrative that wastes little time and is surprisingly grounded in reality – yes, everything goes massively wrong in ways that defy reality, but the steps leading up to the results never skirt into an obviously unrealistic, fantasy level like that of some other recent horror comedies such as, for example, Zombieland (2009 / trailer) or Evil Aliens (2006 / trailer). But like Zombieland and Evil Aliens – or Shawn of the Dead (2004 / trailer) or Botched (2007 / trailer) or Slither (2006 / trailer), to list a few of the more successful recent horror comedies – Tucker and Dale vs. Evil balances the blood and guts with the laughs extremely well, and never underplays the gore aspects of the genre even as it injects the events with both humor and (during the big final showdown) tension and excitement.
Like the less funny but just as equally creative and surprising horror film Trick 'r Treat (2007 / trailer), Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is yet another recent genre film that really deserves a wider release than it ever got and that, one hopes, will eventually be discovered by a broader audience – as it deserves to be. Be the first one on your block.