Frightfest Film Review: Tucker & Dale vs Evil

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Don’t let me be misunderstood

(Tucker & Dale vs Evil, Eli Craig, Canada, 2010, 88 mins)

‘Officer’, says Alan Tudyk’s Tucker to a terrified cop, ‘do we look like a couple of psycho killers to you?’ This sweet couple of hillbillies wouldn’t harm a fly, though attempted intercourse wouldn’t be out of the question, but thanks to the likes of John Boorman’s Deliverance, Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre and numerous identikit horrors in which preppy teens are brutalised by quasi-retarded southerners, they fit the profile perfectly.

The injustice of this stereotyping, for Tucker and Dale are just a couple of harmless Joes renovating their dream cabin in the Appalachians; it’s aged décor – newspaper cuttings and human skeletal artefacts, suggesting Ed Gein as the previous tenant, is the springboard for this uproariously funny inversion of the archetypal southern nightmare.

Eli Craig stands that traditional story on its head, casting the duo as victims of a group of dim witted college kids who think in movie clichés. The iconography of the genre – the terrified abductee, the chainsaw welding yokel, the sadistic killer who makes his victims dig their own graves – is reworked to great comic effect, with Craig building a series of misunderstandings around each for the benefit of a genre literate audience. Better yet, there’s self-inflicted violence; the kids’ over active imaginations leading to ill-fated attempts at “rescuing” friend Alison (who in reality has hit her head and been taken to the duo’s cabin to recuperate), resulting in their untimely, but upon reflection, merciful deaths.

Craig’s comedy proved to be something of a tonic at this year’s Frightfest; a tonic that washed down the nihilistic stodge and derivative gruel that tends to pad out such festivals. It’s a surprisingly sweet and good natured movie, given the death count, attributable in no small measure to the innocent interplay between Tudyk and co-star Tyler Labine. Tucker and Dale are a lovable pairing, invested with plenty of wry comic ticks. Who couldn’t love a man who awkwardly approaches a girl, hoping to strike up a conversation, with a scythe in his hand? How can a guy who washes his wounds with beer not be endearing?

Amongst the carnage there’s also a sweet, and improbably credible burgeoning romance between Dale and the wounded Alison (an appropriately bemused Katrina Bowden). She watches with befuddlement as her friends, one of whom has modelled his personality on Anthony Perkins, contrive to end themselves in ways designed to bring an injury lawyer to orgasm. The demented leader of this troupe aside, the evil of the title might be good old fashioned bigotry; at least it would have been if the film’s backstory didn’t revolve around some genuine lazy eyed rednecks with a murderous bent.

I suppose you have to give the traditionalists something.

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