Friday, 7 December 2012

Tucker & Dale vs Evil (2010)

Dir. Eli Craig
Starring: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss 

It all starts so innocently. A group of college kids off for a camping holiday in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia. But on the way they bump into a couple of sinister-looking hillbillies. The hillbillies find them out in the woods; they carry off one of the girls. It becomes clear to the other kids that the two strangers are torturing their friend. They resolve to rescue her. But when they find the old tumbledown shack in which the hillbillies live they start to die, one after another… 

Actually, that’s not an innocent start at all. From the off the audience are led to understand what sort of movie this is going to be. It seems that every single American horror movie starts with overhead shots of a single vehicle driving into the great untouched wilderness – The Shining, Deliverance, The Evil Dead. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre had a van full of happy college kids too. Then we meet the sinister locals at a beat-up gas station; again, references to the gas station in …Massacre, the fishermen at the side of the road in Evil Dead and the inbreds of Deliverance. Except that the locals are nice guys really. In particular the two threatening hillbillies are just two good buddies by the name of Tucker and Dale (Alan Tudyk [Doc Potter in 3:10 to Yuma] and Tyler Labine) who have just bought a shack in the hills they want to fix up as a vacation home. They want to head up into the hills, drinks some beers, do a little home improvement and do some fishing. Cinema-savvy viewers might recognise the creepiness of their shack, with its walls plastered with newspaper cuttings about ‘The Memorial Day Massacre’ and its ceiling beams hung with bones. Tucker and Dale, however, just assume the previous owner was a hunter with an eclectic sense of decoration. Stumbling on the college kids, they rescue Allie (Katrina Bowden) when she falls into the lake and knocks herself unconscious. They cannot understand why the others run away when they shout “We’ve got your friend!” The kids then determine to ‘rescue’ Allie but only manage to accidentally kill themselves in horrific impalement / fire / woodchipper / strimmer-related accidents – all to the bewilderment of Tucker and Dale. 
The pranksters couldn't resist burying Zeke up to his waist
What Tucker & Dale vs Evil does is play upon people’s prejudices. Movies have led us to expect certain horror tropes. Popular culture tells us that backwoods hillbillies are all inbred psychopaths. Well, they’re not. Seen through Tucker and Dale’s eyes it is the college kids that are acting bizarrely. They struggle to explain why these kids are acting the way they are – they assume it is part of some suicide cult. The students’ de facto leader, Chad (Jess Moss), talks about this being a battle against “evil”. Well, he’s right. And at the film’s climax Dale has to rescue Allie from an old lumber mill (yes, complete with still functional circular saw) by defeating a very demonic-looking opponent. 

Allie believes that communication can cure the world’s ills. And the problems in this movie are caused by an unwillingness or an inability to communicate. Posh college kids and West Virginian good ol’ boys do not mix. Ever. They have no frame of reference to start a dialogue. Interactions with each other are hence based upon prejudices and misunderstandings.  

Tucker & Dale… has bits of all genres in it. It knowingly subverts the conventions of slasher flicks to create a (rather dark) comedy. It is a buddy movie. There is a love story. To be honest slasher movies were dying for a parody to be made of them, and this is a pretty good one. It’s funny, entertaining, pleasantly gory – and for those with a knowledge of the genre there is a delight in noticing the little internal references. I sometimes thought that certain elements could have been stressed a bit more to make it more pantomimey (how will the students react to Tucker’s bee-sting-swollen face?) but it is a fine film and left me wondering whether Tucker and Dale will get any further cinematic outings. 

What have I learnt about West Virginia?
‘Hillbillies’ are people too. The locals may drive around in beat-up pick-ups while wearing denim dungarees and baseball caps and they may possess tumbledown shacks in the woods but that does not make them murderers. It is the attitudes of visitors who look down on the locals that cause problems. 

Pastimes include fishing, hunting, bowling, drinking and dreaming of fixing up your own lads’ vacation home. 

Can we go there?
The action is set in the Appalachian Mountains, in the vicinity of somewhere called ‘Morris Lake’. The filming, however, took place in Alberta, Canada, just west of Calgary. 

Overall Rating: 4/5

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