Review: ‘Tucker & Dale vs. Evil’

"If Preston Sturges lived long enough and was actually inclined to make a gory horror comedy, Tucker & Dale would be it."

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil was shelved for a long time following a showing at Sundance in 2010. It opened theatrically in Kazakhstan, Russia, Estonia, Lithuania and The Netherlands nine months before it received a release in the United States. These are not, traditionally, encouraging signs of quality. We might need to reevaluate those standards. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is a wickedly funny and impressively smart horror film that deserves a wide theatrical release and billboards emblazoned with impressive sounding quotes – like, for example, “Wickedly Funny and Impressively Smart!” – but instead you can find it on Video on Demand starting this week, in advance of a limited theatrical run on September 30th.

Oh well. At least you can finally watch this merry little shockfest for yourself.

Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine star as Tucker and Dale, respectively, two well-meaning innocent hillbillies who are pleased as punch to have just purchased their very own vacation home. That the ramshackle cabin in the woods is falling apart, and comes with unsettling newspaper clippings about murder tacked to the walls does not deter them, because it’s a “fixer-upper” and has one of Dale’s favorite board games in it. As they set about their task of sprucing up the joint, a group of preppy, sexy college kids camps nearby to enjoy a weekend of booze, boobs and b… drugs. 

When one of their Alpha Females, Allison (played by Katrina Bowden), hits her head and almost drowns, Tucker and Dale save her life but, in a preposterously long string of hilarious misunderstandings, her friends interpret their actions as those of bloodthirsty rednecks on a murder spree. Their attempts to “save” her never once involve actually talking to Tucker and Dale, who wait patiently for Allison’s friends to stop by the cabin and pick her up. Instead the brash young upstarts, led by the passionate anti-hillbilly Chad (Jesse Moss), embark on a series of raids on Tucker and Dale’s vacation home, which invariably lead to their accidental suicides. They impale themselves on branches and jump headfirst into woodchippers. And it’s hilarious every single damned time.

Lots of comedies are based off of misunderstandings which, should anyone actually attempt to discuss them instead of making wild assumptions, could be easily dismissed in minutes. Director Eli Craig, with his co-writer Morgan Jurgensen, at least has a new idea for one. Rather than married couples flouncing around a hotel with confused notions about their spouse’s fidelity (or lack thereof), Tucker & Dale vs. Evil smartly imbues its slightly heavy-handed themes of communication (or lack thereof) with violent consequences. If Preston Sturges lived long enough and was actually inclined to make a gory horror comedy, Tucker & Dale would be it. Even I’m shocked at how much praise it deserves, and I’m generally inclined to like this sort of thing on sheer principle.

Beyond the consistently inventive screenplay and sly direction, Tucker & Dale mostly lives and dies based on the performances of Labine and Tudyk, both talented performers with amusing roles already on their resume. But they outdo themselves here, crafting instantly lovable goofs who seem wholly plausible despite living in a universe that has something malevolent on its mind this weekend. The body count is spectacularly high, given the mind-blowing coincidences involved, but it never comes across as silly. It’s like The Powers That Be are making a point with this whole scenario, and are willing to disembowel any unlucky bystander who doesn’t quite get the gist of it. In a way, it’s an odd companion piece to the Final Destination movies, in which the threat is an unseen force that has decided you deserve to die and can manipulate the world around you to make that happen whenever it gets bored. And that’s both scary and, in this case, very f***ing funny.

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is a memorably amusing comedy made with style and wit, which actually dares to have something on its mind, even if it does bonk you on the head with it once too often. It deserves as big an audience as it can find. So please, find it.