Debut feature director Eli Craig’s take on the comedy-horror genre is a glorious homage to all the townie-meets-country shlock horrors over the years, like an hilarious study of all the gory clichés turned on their heads. It still racks up the body count for genre fans and demonises the local White trash population, but cleverly manipulates the inevitable misunderstandings and miscommunications with expert comic timing and chilling pose.
Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are two country boys planning on spending a break doing up Tucker’s ‘holiday shack’ in the woods. However, their plans are scuppered by the arrival of a bunch of townie college folks who naturally fear the worst after one of their friends, Allison (Katrina Bowden), has an accident and goes missing.
Craig delivers the same characters, settings and familiar scenarios, but recreates a wildly unique film as the normal bogeymen are given a voice and a conscience that puts both groups on an equal par, turning the woodland into a battle of wills and body parts. He toys with our stereotypes at first, especially when the hillbillies meet the visitors at a gas station in an awkward and inarticulate exchange, and mocks our ingrained expectations and prejudices. As the film progresses, this light-hearted jesting materialises in even bloodier set-pieces caused by one misunderstanding after another, fuelling the farcical comedy.
Tucker and Dale are the film’s unlikely anti-heroes with great big, daft hearts – like the Laurel and Hardy of the wilderness, willing to converse with the hysterical youngsters hell-bent on revenge and explain their side of the story. However, in a flip role for the genre, they find their civil façade under attack and do whatever is necessary to survive the onslaught. Tudyk and Labine as the two best friends have a delightful and understated comic timing, balancing the idiocy with the wisdom and emotion to form some of the most rounded and memorable horror genre characters in recent years, and possibly placing Tucker and Dale in the realms of contemporary cult hero status.
As with every woodland-based slasher, the attractive characters are ‘punished’ for being so and in the wrong place at the wrong time, meeting their maker like expendable pawns on the game board of errors, but not without some very big laughs at their folly. That said Allison becomes the bridge between the two ‘cultures’, and Craig even ribs this fanciful attempt at DIY psychology in the film, making her seem totally ridiculous in her efforts to appease the two factions over a pot of tea, and resulting in Bowden hamming up her role to a treat.
Every horror needs its evil entity alongside its victims, and Chad (Jesse Moss) is highlighted from the start as the rogue player with his manipulation tactics and general disregard, making for an intriguing character arc and end reveal that’s fairly obvious from the initial flashbacks to a previous group’s bloody demise in the woods. Moss plays testosterone-fuelled Chad as both pathetic and frighteningly unhinged, but never forgets the winks to previous horror baddies, and injects as much panto humour into proceedings as the tenser moments will allow him to, but without losing the nail-biting impact.
Craig’s first feature film fully demonstrates his aptitude and passion for the horror genre in this topsy-turvy hoot, delivering a grim and confident fiasco full of clever contradictions and a couple of likeable champions of the hour in Tucker and Dale, while amusingly flying the flag for misinterpreted hillbillies everywhere.
**WATCH THE TRAILER HERE