SXSW Film: ‘Tucker and Dale vs. Evil’

Alan Tudyk and Taylor Labine in Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

Winner, SXSW Midnighters Audience Award

Eli Craig’s feature debut, which showed in perfectly appropriate midnight screenings at SXSW, is a fairly low-budget hillbilly slasher comedy packed with almost gentle send-ups of horror clichés. I loved it a little bit. Maybe more than a little bit.

Perhaps you want to know a little more than that.

Tucker and Dale stars Alan Tudyk — Joss Whedon regular, funny guy, the reason the movie caught my eye — and Tyler Labine (Reaper) as a pair of down-home, PBR-swilling, dirty-coverall-wearing good buddies who are totally stoked to spend the weekend at Tucker’s new vacation home, a fixer-upper in the woods. Naturally, some nubile college students are headed … to the same part of the woods!

Craig (who co-wrote the screenplay with Morgan Jurgenson) starts doling out the clichés even before the two camps cross paths. The college kids are cocky, privileged, fresh-faced and mostly dumb if not borderline vicious; the country fellows are good-hearted and well-intentioned and misunderstood. Dale (Labine), desperate to talk to one of the cute blondes, tries to give it a shot, only to wind up looking like a logger angel of death. The sheriff is creepy. The fixer-upper looks like a set left over from a horror movie, but Tucker and Dale love it; it’s their vacation home! Time to get to work!

Meanwhile, the dicktastic leader of the college pack, Chad (Jesse Moss), spins a classic campfire tale: Twenty years ago on this very day, a group of campers at the same spot met a terrible fate. Murder! Mayhem! Only his mother escaped.

A likely story. (Keep reading…)

Tucker and Dale is a surprisingly sweet movie, even when kids are chucking themselves into wood chippers or getting accidentally impaled on conveniently located sharp sticks (the movie’s swipes at coincidence-laden plots are often clever but sometimes a little mild). A series of contrivances puts the cute blonde, Alison (Katrina Bowden, from 30 Rock), in Tucker and Dale’s care, where she and Dale learn they may have underestimated one another. Pop psychology peeks in and provides a chance for the opposing camps to air their grievances (maybe crazed slashers just need to be understood?). The self-awareness factor isn’t as high as in Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland, where the characters know the rules of horror and are working around them; Craig plays it a little straighter, reversing character stereotypes and making the most of musical cues and overused images (some of which are direct references to classic horror flicks) to poke fun at the genre while he plays in its sandbox.

None of this would amount to much but a few giggles and gross-out moments were it not for Tudyk and Labine, who balance out the appropriately interchangeable collegiate characters with genuine warmth that turns into equally genuine frustration as the frantically dying kids make bigger and bigger messes. If their long-running, banter-filled friendship is misread, or their interests not appreciated, they don’t really mind — provided no confused campers are trying to kill them. Can’t a guy just have a nice quiet vacation? Not in Craig’s goofy, irreverent movie, which — of course! — has a warm little message about tolerance and judgment tucked in between the gory deaths.

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil does not yet have a release date.

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