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SXSW Review: ‘Tucker & Dale vs Evil’

Tucker & Dale Vs Evil is a film I went into with low expectations and, for the most part, I was not disappointed. Showing at midnight on the first day of SXSW, it was a perfect way to start off the late night screenings. However, the film works best and can be most enjoyed if you don’t take it too seriously or expect too much from it.

While the two leads, Tucker (played by Firefly and Dollhouse‘s Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine, recently of Reaper and the upcoming Sons of Tucson), are immensely likable and have good chemistry and banter, the film falls short and doesn’t live up to their potential. This is unfortunate on many levels because given more effort and time, it probably would have turned out a lot better and been a more fitting vehicle for these two actors.

The premise of Tucker & Dale is very simple and in most cases when it comes to filmmaking, simple is a good thing. Sadly, a simple premise alone does not a complete movie make and as the movie progresses, the slender thread of that premise starts to unravel. This is where this film chiefly falls in that while it does have a simple premise, it doesn’t expand much beyond it and instead offers a string of somewhat uninspired and progressively repetitive “accidents” that go along, leading the film to its inevitable conclusion.

The movie starts off well enough and sets up the two groups that will eventually battle each other. We meet the two leads, Tucker and Dale, and a group of college kids out for some fun. Of course, these two groups meet and the film brings them together well and with good comic effect.

Dale, encouraged by Tucker, attempts to talk to the pretty girl in the group (30 Rock’s Katrina Bowden) but does it very poorly and with very inappropriate props. The result is the college kids start off afraid of the two and as the film continues, they become even more scared. Naturally, they will meet again and soon.

If there’s one thing about Tucker & Dale that does work, it’s the performances by the two leads. Tudyk and Labine shine here as misunderstood hillbillies forced to defend themselves from an evil they don’t understand. Their interactions generate most of the genuine laughs during the film as they struggle to understand what’s happening to them and why college kids keep dying.

All they wanted to do was enjoy their new vacation home in the woods and now through a series of unfortunate and at times humorous misunderstandings, the two are blamed for the deaths and the film turns somewhat precariously into a battle for survival that ultimately costs one of them some items he will surely miss. Along the way we begin to understand that they are not fighting just any evil, but the true evil that exists inside all of us.

Also well cast here is Bowden as the main unlucky college kid and object of Dale’s affection. She has a lot more to do here than she usually does on TV and shows she has potential to do a lot more in the future. I expect to see this film launch her into far more film roles. Also of note is Jesse Moss, who manages to make something out of his somewhat two-dimensional role as frat boy Chad, the embodiment of “evil.”

The failing of Tucker & Dale may be, in many ways, due to its low budget. As someone who spent time in the low budget filmmaking world, the fact that this turned out even as well as it did is well is no doubt due, in large part, to the perseverance of its director and appeal of its cast.

Director Eli Craig manages to get good performances from most of his actors and stages the action fairly well. He also inserts some obvious, and not so obvious, homages to classic horror films, some of which generate the biggest laughs in the film. It will be interesting to see if this movie does well enough for him to get another film. I would like to see what he could do with a bit more money and time.

Even with its obvious budget limitations, the film does manage to have quite a bit of decent blood and gore. Fortunately, that’s something that can be accomplished reasonably well these days without too much strain on a film’s budget and is something particularly appealing to a midnight crowd at a film festival. There are a few good chase scenes and some convincing kills which while slightly over the top and obvious in some cases, still manage to entertain and elicit the all-important responses from the audience.

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil has some strong things going for for it from its appealing male leads, an attractive female lead and a decent supporting cast. Its a movie with a lot of promise that due to budget, time or other factors, wasn’t able to live up to that promise. Given that I tend allow the film a little more room and a chance where for a larger budget studio film, I probably wouldn’t. If you’re a fan of horror films, appreciate dark humor, can remain relatively optimistic but not expect too much, you may want to give Tucker & Dale a try.

However, if you go into it expecting some kind of great innovation or “The America Shaun of the Dead,” you will leave the theater disappointed. Taken on its own and giving it the leeway you can for a film of modest means, Tucker & Dale Vs Evil is entertaining enough and its leads appealing and funny enough, that you can almost excuse the film’s other obvious shortcomings. Almost.

  • Ryan
    April 20, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    Tucker and Dale vs. Evil will be playing at The Malibu International Film Festival opening night on Thursday April 29th 8pm at Malibu Cinemas in Malibu, CA. Tickets for the film and excellent after-party where you can meet the cast and crew can be purchased at http://www.ticketweb.com/t3/sale/SaleEventDetail?dispatch=loadSelectionData&eventId=1778315.  
     
    Go to malibufilmfestival.com for more details.

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