Hidden Netflix Gems – Tucker and Dale vs Evil

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

I am notorious for my willingness to watch pretty much any movie, so it is always a joy to find one that wildly exceeds my expectations. This is often not a great movie, by any means, but one that flew under the critical radar for the most part, and provided some unexpected pleasure, a film that I can enjoy recommending to friends in the knowledge that they have probably not encountered it. Eli Craig’s debut feature Tucker and Dale vs Evil is one of those films, especially for horror fans. Though it is relatively slight and far from perfect, this is an enormously fun and clever riff on the slasher genre, a film that will undoubtedly be especially enjoyed by fans of the recent horror deconstruction masterpiece The Cabin in the Woods, or the mostly overlooked 2006 mockumentary, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (also available on Netflix).

Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are two well-meaning but poorly educated good ol’ boys who have recently purchased a rundown cabin in the woods as a vacation home. En route to their paradise of relaxation and fishing, they encounter a group of mostly obnoxious college kids who are creeped out by them based on Dale’s innocent but ungainly attempt to talk to the prettiest girl among them, Allison (Katrina Bowden). Chad (Jesse Moss) in particular shows extraordinary prejudice against the two well-meaning bumpkins, and it becomes clear that he is the character who would be the hero in a more conventional horror film. Instead, he is presented as a vicious, bloodthirsty maniac – the very type of person he believes Tucker and Dale to be.

After Chad attempts to put the moves on Allison at his family’s cabin, adjacent to Tucker and Dale’s, she leaves to take a walk by herself down by the lake, only to slip and fall in, hitting her head. Tucker and Dale, of course, save her from drowning, but are perceived by the other college students to be kidnapping her. This is just the beginning of a series of unfortunate accidents and misunderstandings that leads Chad and the others to think the two good-natured hillbillies are psycho killers. Though it ultimately takes a less interesting route (and I may be giving this bloody but relatively light comedy too much credit), at a certain point the film seems to be making the surprisingly intelligent case that, often, those obsessed with finding and destroying evil are, in fact, the truly evil ones. It undercuts this philosophical thesis with a lot of silliness and a somewhat problematic ending, but this movie is nonetheless a lot of fun, and a far better film than the title led me to believe.

  

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SXSW 2010: Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

Every so often, a movie comes along that sounds too good to be true. Whether it’s the talent involved, an interesting concept, or a particularly well-cut trailer, it’s easy to be duped into thinking a movie will be better than it really is. Thankfully, “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” is not that film. A horror comedy in the spirit of “Shaun of the Dead,” “Tucker and Dale” isn’t a spoof of the genre it’s parodying (in this case, hillbilly slasher movies like “Wrong Turn”), but rather a razor-sharp homage fueled by a clever script and hilarious performances from its stars.

Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine star as Tucker and Dale, two good ‘ol boys on their way to fix up their newly purchased vacation home in the woods when they cross paths with a group of college students who think they’re serial killers. So when the duo saves one of the students (Katrina Bowden) after she falls into the lake and hits her head on a rock, her friends think that she’s been abducted and being held captive in their cabin. Determined to fight back, the students take turns going after the supposed hunters, but every time they do, they only end up killing themselves instead. From their point of view, it certainly looks like Tucker and Dale are responsible for the bloody mayhem, but the two friends are nothing but unlucky – a fact that only becomes clearer when the group’s bloodthirsty leader (Jesse Moss) takes matters into his own hands

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“Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” is a movie built around a series of ridiculous coincidences (just like the films it playfully pokes fun at), and while it may seem a bit far-fetched at times, it’s all part of the experience. Writer/director Eli Craig is obviously a big fan of the genre, because he knows which strings to pull and how to pull them. He’s crafted some pretty memorable death scenes that, despite causing fits of laughter, don’t skimp on the bloody details either. There’s plenty of gooey viscera splattered throughout the film, but its strengths lie in Craig’s script – particularly the exchanges between its title characters as they ponder the reason why these students would be killing themselves.

For as funny as the script may be, however, there would be no “Tucker and Dale” without Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine, who have such great onscreen chemistry that you wouldn’t mind them starring in every movie together. Labine ends up playing a much larger role than his co-star due to a romantic subplot between him and Katrina Bowden, but Tudyk arguably gets the better material, including one scene no doubt inspired by “Fargo.” If only the actors playing the college students were even remotely as good. Granted, most of them are nothing more than stupid bait, but Jesse Moss plays such a pivotal role that his over-the-top performance is distracting. It’s the only element that doesn’t work as well as the others, but even though “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” is a mostly one-joke affair, it finds ways to keep you laughing even when it’s not at its best.

  

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Friday movie news dump: the first Salinger movie, the Sundance beat goes on, etc.

Hey folks. I’ve got a relatively limited amount of time today and, just to add to the drama, the usually excellent free wi-fi at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf slowed down today to a relative crawl for a time while I was researching this. Let’s see how much I can cover.

* Just as I was ready to wrap things up, we have a breaking story. As I sorta alluded to yesterday regarding J.D. Salinger, it’s inevitable his death will pave the way for some new films. It turns out I was, if anything, way behind the curve. Working screenwriter Shane Salerno — whose work, like the planned James Cameron-produced “Fantastic Voyage” remake, bends toward the geek — has been working on a documentary about the writer who became almost as famous for his escape from the public eye as for his actual work, and it’s apparently nearly completed. Mike Fleming has not only broken the news of the formerly under-wraps project, he’s seen most of the movie

* Of course, Sundance continues slogging away, and word of acquisitions by film distributors have been making their way round the usual spots. Indiewire’s Eugene Hernandez has news on the well-regarded “Blue Valentine” with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. He also gives a quick nod to such other highish profile films as “The Tilman Story” (a documentary about the late Pat Tilman), “The Kids Are Alright” (not to be confused with the old rock-doc about the Who) and “Hesher,” a not very appealing sounding film that nevertheless has Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead. The “Valentine” sale is of particular interesting as it was the troubled Weinstein Company that picked it up. Coincidentally, the company named for Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s parents, Mira and Max, has gone on the block.

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TV in the 2000s: The Decade in Whedonism – 10 Small Screen Masterpieces from Joss Whedon

Like an awful lot of film and TV geeks, and just plain geeks, I’m a pretty big Joss Whedon fan. In fact, my devotion to his unique blend of fantasy and science fiction melodrama, sometimes arch old-school movie-style witty dialogue blended with Marvel comics repartee, strong characterization, and often somewhat silly plots has at times gotten almost embarrassing. A few years back some of my very adult friends were suggesting in concerned tones that I should really marry the man if I love him so much.

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More recently, I thought my fandom was under relative control. But now, I’ve been asked my opinion on the ten best examples of small-screen work in this decade from the creator and guiding force of “Angel,” “Firefly,” the already canceled “Dollhouse,” and, of course, “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.” I only have to be thankful for the fact that first four seasons of “Buffy,” which contain most of that show’s greatest episodes, are disqualified because they appeared on TV sets before 2000. We take our mercies where we find them. (And, yes, if you’re about to catch up with these on DVD, there are a fair number of spoilers below for the various series, though I’ve tried to keep a few secrets.) One word of warning: my relative ranking of these shows is a matter of mood and borders on the random. In other words — don’t hold me to these choices!

Out of competition:

BTVS, “The Body” (“Buffy, the Vampire Slayer”) – This episode usually ranks extremely high when people make these kind of lists. Entertainment Weekly named it as pretty much the best thing Joss Whedon has ever done and maybe the best TV thing ever. The truth of the matter is that, yes, the episode where Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Geller) discovers the already cold body of her mother, Joyce (Kristine Sutherland, a wonderful asset to the show for the five previous years), dead from an entirely natural brain tumor, was probably one of the most remarkable episodes of television ever shown, and probably the only thing I’ve seen that comes close to capturing the essence of what it feels like when someone dies unexpectedly. The problem was, I didn’t find it depressing; I found it real. I didn’t feel any more like repeating the experience than I would the death of an actual loved one.

Whedon – who wrote and directed the episode himself – deserves all the credit in the world for the brave choices he made, including shooting the episode in close to “real time” and not using any music. If I have one complaint with Whedon, it’s his tendency to close emotional episodes with, dare I say it, somewhat drippy montages. His choice to eliminate music from the kind of “very special” show where other creators would lay in with three or four montages of Joyce frolicking in the woods or what have you, shows Whedon is, at heart, an outstanding filmmaker. I’ve never had a problem with his much-noted tendency to kill off sympathetic and/or popular characters. It might anger some fans, but especially if you’re dealing with inherently violent material, there’s something morally wrong about not dealing with the fact that good people are just as mortal as bad people. Still, I don’t enjoy watching this episode. If this were a movie, maybe I’d be more in awe or eager for profundity. However, if I’m going to be honest, I can’t call “The Body” a favorite and I can’t be sure it’s one of the “best.”

#10, Shiny Happy People (“Angel”) – Fans of the spin-off about Buffy’s ex, the vampire-with-a-soul detective (David Boreanaz), and various assembled demon-hunters and occasionally friendly demons, will be scratching their heads at this choice. It’s an unpopular episode from a widely and justly derided storyline involving a very weird affair between Angel’s unbalanced super-powered teenage son from another dimension, Connor (Vincent Kartheiser, now of “Mad Men“), and a suddenly evil Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), a former high school mean girl turned lovably complex grown-up foil for her vampire boss. And, yeah, it was a little freaky for Cordy to give birth to a fully grown creature called Jasmine.

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However, as played by the wondrous Gina Torres of the then recently-canceled “Firefly,” Jasmine was freaky in a good way. A being whose god-like ability to create an instant sense of peace, happiness, and complete obedience, is somewhat set off by the fact that she’s actually a deformed and decaying, if not entirely evil, monster who must consume people to live, she was every charismatic leader and every great screen beauty rolled into one monstrous ball. More than anything else, “Shiny Happy People” reminded me of Don Siegel’s 1956 film verson of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” It was another believable demonstration of how we humans are only too willing to surrender our our humanity to the first apparently completely beauteous and 100% wise being who comes along. You know, like Oprah, only less powerful.

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