Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
2011, R, 86 min. Directed by Eli Craig. Starring Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Jesse Moss, Katrina Bowden, Brandon Jay McLaren, Christie Laing, Chelan Simmons.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 30, 2011
Referencing everything from Deliverance to The Evil Dead to Fargo and nailing its central conceit dead-on (literally!), this is one of those rare genre comedies that near-perfectly balances its blend of grue, guffaws, and gag reflexes. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil premiered in Austin during SXSW 2010 and has languished on the shelf for the better part of two years. Why? Possibly because it's the sharpest tool in a Camp Crystal Lake shedful of rusty remakes and dull, witless horror sequels that have littered the cinema of late, like so many good-looking but conceptually dead teenagers.
Tucker (Tudyk) and Dale (Labine, of A Good Old Fashioned Orgy) are a pair of amiable, PBR-guzzling "hillbilly" pals who plan to spend their vacation relaxing at the former's newly purchased summer home in the woods. Stopping off at Last Chance Gas to fill up on fishing supplies and beer, they encounter a group of clean-cut frat kids led by alpha male Chad (Moss). In an attempt to boost his friend's shaky self-esteem, Tucker urges Dale to talk to leggy blonde Allison (Bowden), but the bumpkin's bib overalls and anxious smile only serve to frighten the city kids. Later, after one of the frat boys runs afoul of a sternum-piercing tree branch while high, the other kids assume it's the murderous handiwork of the two rednecks from the store, and the stage is set for some serious Grand Guignol and a first-rate comedy of errors.
Tucker & Dale's genius running gag is that the whole nightmarish contretemps is one big misunderstanding. With teenagers dying all around them, Tucker and Dale assume they’re under siege by some sort of death cult, while the genre-savvy teens believe they've stumbled into a hillbilly chainsaw massacre. The whole thing is pitch-perfect, up to and including a goofily touching semi-romance between Dale and Allison.
Craig (who co-wrote the clever and genuinely funny script with Morgan Jurgenson) plays off genre and real-life stereotypes with giddy panache, and Tudyk and Labine make their respective characters far more than the walking horror tropes they first appear to be. Their banal between-bloodshed banter, as when they first lay eyes on Tucker's Evil Dead-esque "vacation home" and declare it beautiful, is particularly winning. If every horror outing had as much heart (and viscera) as Tucker & Dale does, there'd be a lot fewer unnecessary sequels and remakes.