In “Tusk,” Justin Long plays a podcaster named Wally who travels around the country to interview colorful characters for a radio show called The Not-See Party. He describes these encounters to his best friend and co-host (Haley Joel Osment), who then has to decide whether or not the stories are real or wholly made up. After traveling to Canada to meet a minor Internet celebrity who gained fame for accidentally chopping off his own leg with a samurai sword (a nod to Smith’s pal and fellow indie trailblazer Quentin Tarantino), who has unknowingly taken his own life in the interim, Wally finds himself in desperate need of a story and finds one when he gazes upon a strange personal ad placed by an old sailor (Michael Parks) looking for someone to spend time in his creaky old mansion. Wally goes to visit the old timer and winds up with a whole lot more than he bargained for. We’re not trying to be cagey; the less you know about the plot specifics, the better the WTF-worthy payoff is.[…]
The movie, too, takes on a wildly different tone when, around the third act, a wholly unrecognizable Johnny Depp is introduced as a gonzo French-Canadian detective named Guy LaPointe, who teams up with Wally’s co-host and girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) to track him down. With Depp’s entrance, what had been a relatively straightforward horror film is turned on its head. It’s undoubtedly the best, most off-the-wall performance Depp has given in ages, the kind of actorly feat that is so out there that it borders on the hypnotic. Depp, with little more than some well-placed prosthetics and a goofy French-Canadian accent, makes “Tusk” infinitely weirder.
Throughout “Tusk,” there are characters telling stories. They tell stories to each other, to themselves, to countless listeners over the Internet, and it’s this idea that is at the heart of the film. […] Depp’s character is introduced the same way, with a longwinded monologue that effectively changes the shape of the entire movie.
The movie is funny and scary and odd, and Smith makes a genuine effort to provide scares, going further than you’d ever expect him to in an effort to establish mood and tone. […] “Tusk” is being marketed as a “truly transformative tale,” and by the end of the movie’s briskly paced 102 minutes, you’ll feel that it’s Smith who has been reinvented most of all. He’s using his skill set in a different genre, with a different agenda altogether, combining autobiographical elements, spooky late-night B-movie influences and a deeper thematic exploration of the nature of storytelling, to create something wholly unique and twisted. “Tusk” will be a lot of things to a lot of people (and we expect the reaction to the film to run the gamut from rapturous adoration to repulsed indifference), but at it’s best, “Tusk” is outlandishly unforgettable.