That movie where the hillbillies aren’t the bad guys
Cast: Tyler Labine (Reaper) as Dale, Alan Tudyk (Firefly, Dodgeball) as Tucker, Katrina Bowden (30 Rock) as Allison
Premise: Two ditzy Appalachians on vacation are hunted by terrified college students when they are mistaken for serial killers
Real World History: The Appalachians represent some of the oldest families of European settlers. They are one of the primary suppliers of lumber and coal. They basically created a political party (The Whigs!). Dolly Parton is Appalachian, and who doesn’t love her?
Movie History: Appalachians are cannibalistic mutated inbred psychotic monster rapists who are obsessed with making city folk squeal like pigs (source: Deliverance).
Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil tries to buck this unfortunate film trend by making it’s hillbilly heroes well-meaning guys who don’t get that “civilized” people view them as threats. This sets up the majority of jokes in this film: Tucker and Dale do something they think is innocuous like carve a friendly mis-spelt message into a wooden log with an axe start a conversation while holding a scythe in hand.
In reaction, the college kids overreact and attempt to “defend” themselves against the two…
These beats are repeated throughout the film, making it fairly telegraphed. The film’s plot, while novel, isn’t exactly groundbreaking in it’s structure. The conflict between the hillbillies and the college kids is intentionally dumb; the hillbillies are too dumb to know that they’re scary and the college kids are too dumb to attempt talking to them. The film also makes no attempt to obfuscate the titular “evil” our heroes have to face. Thankfully, the artistic direction and performances legitimizes the film’s predictable rhythm.
The film’s artistic direction apes heavily from recent “hillbilly horror” films (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday The 13th remakes). The film uses it’s backwood setting to create a visceral tone. Trickles of sunlight through the forest canopy illuminate grit and sweat. Worn-out blades screech and whine. At a glance, this film could be confused with the horror films it mocks. In addition, the film takes those films’ over-the- top violence and makes it even more audacious. A flashback shows an unseen killer using a razor sharp saw blade as a discus to kill several campers (after scratching his neck with it of course). All of the college kids’ attempts to kill Tucker and Dale only lead to their own fantastically gorey deaths. On their end, the film is a Wile E. Coyote short gone wrong. What makes this horror comedy work as opposed to, say, the Scary Movie sequels, is that the film understands the cinematic grammar of the subgenre it’s imitating rather than just referencing popular scenes. Just look at this scene, which plays like a subversion of a scene from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Despite the film’s cartoonish nature, it’s two leads are relatable. For those unfamiliar with the actors, they’re both known for playing comic reliefs in the cult classics Firefly and Reaper. Tudyk played the not-very-badass mercenary pilot Wash and Labine played the hero’s fat casanova friend Sock. Their roles are reversed here: Labine as Dale is a dorky reader who’s uncomfortable talking to women and Tudyk as Tucker tries to give him some confidence as the “smoother” of the two. Labine straddles a line between being as creepy as the kids assume he is and being merey an awkward dude. Whether not he’s likable enough to attract the likes of his love interest is debatable, but he’s not the first fat guy to date a girl out of his league. Despite the title, Tudyk’s Tucker character is fairly secondary. Besides buying the vacation home that the film is set in, Tucker’s entire character is support for Dale, the film’s true hero. With that, he’s also more broad in his Appalachian performance: he’s ALARMED that his best friend doesn’t enjoy fishing and thinks that offering a cooler full of Pabst is a great way to defuse a Mexican standoff. Fortunately, neither character is completely reduced to stereotype; the film thankfully avoids some of the obvious jokes about Appalachians (inbreeding, poor hygiene, etc).
Overall, I greatly enjoyed this film. It has two solid comedy leads, a well-defined aesthetic, and at least one hot actress. That’s all I needed.
My rating: Two thumbs up! (This was literally the first image I found and I didn’t even search for the thumbs up part)
- Though the “lock and load montage” is a pretty common trope, I really want to believe that the montage of Dale arming himself is a reference to Evil Dead 2 considering the cabin setting, rhythm and his use of a chainsaw. Unfortunately, Dale is still lacking the shotgun.