Pictured: One of the worst conceivable ways of breaking the ice.
If horror movies are to be believed, nowhere is truly safe. Cities are lousy with sadistically creative serial killers and sewer monsters. Suburbia is riddled with masked murderers and ironically sinister denizens lurking around the white picket fences. But perhaps worst is the great outdoors; if the vicious cryptofauna doesn’t get you, the psychotic satanic cults and clans of cannibalistic country folk will. This is, naturally, slanderous propaganda. Despite the curious voting habits of rural types, they are just people like anyone else, roughly as likely to kill and eat you as any espresso-swilling metropolitan. Tucker and Dale vs Evil seeks to redress this continued misrepresentation, perpetrated by out-of touch coastal elites, by showing the terrible consequences of this potentially fatal consequences of this baseless prejudice.
Genial rural gentlemen Tucker (Tyler Labine) and Dale (Alan Tudyk) are finally living the dream, having at last secured their very own holiday home, an unsettling and dilapidated cabin in the Appalachian mountains. But a chance encounter with a group of obnoxious college kids on a camping trip leads to a desperate fight for survival, as the two are mistaken for murderous hillbillies. Through a series of bizarre and unfortunate events, triggered by Tucker and Dale rescuing one of the students, Katrina Bowden’s Allison, the campers become convinced that Tucker and Dale are picking off their friends, while the two fear that they are being pursued by a crazed murder-suicide cult. A peaceful resolution is made impossible by the kids’ hysteria, and the manic glee of alpha-jock Chad (Jesse Moss), who becomes fixated on “rescuing” Allison and playing the hero to vanquish the bloodthirsty hicks.
The movie is a strange blend of parody and farce that uses horror tropes and a knowledge of its influences to satirise the likes of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes and the Wrong Turn franchise, without ever truly becoming a horror film. There is gore aplenty to be sure, but the focus is firmly on comedy. In order to achieve the desire conflict between the character there is necessary contrivance, but this is all forgivable. The grisly accidents are far-fetched, but within the reasonable bounds of possibility, and remain humourous because they are ridiculous but not illogical. Of course, comedy (like horror) is one of the more subjective genres, and some viewers will struggle with the odd blend of light-heartedness and black humour. People die, and horrifically, and it is always played for laughs. The heightened reality helps this disparity, as does the fact the the jokes hit almost every time.
The whole point of parody is to subvert the established genre conventions, and Tucker and Dale vs Evil knows exactly what it is lampooning. Gruesome urban legends, blatantly-ignored ominous warnings, and chainsaws all feature, though the obligatory harbinger cautions Tucker and Dale and not the foolish young souls venturing into the unknown, as is traditional. And well he might. If the film is clever for being genre savvy, within the story this same quality is ultimately the catalyst for disaster. Awful actions might be justified in an extreme situation; when it’s kill or be killed, the unthinkable can become necessary. The supposed genre savviness of Chad is grievously misguided because this isn’t that kind of movie. Curiously, the one trope played straight is the dangerous ineptitude of the boozing, pot-smoking college kids, with the exception of the sole sympathetic member of the group, apparent “final girl” Allison. This works within the plot insofar as the characters need to overreact to the situation for the carnage to ensue, but it does feel slightly strange among the knowing manipulation of the other elements of this type of movie.
The mostly unsympathetic and fairly two-dimensional campers are amply compensated for by the two unlikely heroes. Labine’s Tucker is sweet and awkward, and his goofy redneck exterior belies his resourcefulness, while Tudyk’s Dale is more cynical and imagines himself to be worldly. The two are genuinely relatable leads, and while some fun is poked at the “dumb hillbilly” stereotype, their friendship rings true and they react much like most people would when faced with this absurd predicament. They are not merely the butt of the joke. Bowden’s Allison is a weaker character, friendly and likable but largely just serving her role as Tucker’s love interest, amid some admittedly funny lines. It is certainly unclear why such a person would associate with such excitable and imbecilic peers. Moss’ Chad is a poster boy for toxic masculinity (even his name screams “douchebag”), and pleasingly loathsome as the archetypical jock, albeit one who apparently gets off on gratuitous violence.
Unlike its contemporaries Shaun of the Dead and The Cabin in the Woods, Tucker and Dale vs Evil does not really serve a dual function as both a horror and a comedy, skewing much more towards the latter. This is a weakness, but not a major one. The movie is a great twist on the killer hillbilly genre, delivering raucous laughs with tongue firmly in cheek, and the plentiful gore ought to pacify viewers who were hoping for a more horrific experience. In fact, the failure of the film to be a bona fide horror flick might be exactly the point; treating it like it is could lead to your untimely demise by means of a troublesome and extremely pointed tree.
Tucker and Dale vs Evil
Directed by Eli Craig
Written by Eli Craig and Morgan Jurgenson
Starring Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk and Katrina Bowden