Drop everything you’re doing and see this movie right now. It’s awesome.
It’s hard to describe exactly why this film is so special. For starters, it has a one-note premise. A bunch of dumb, drunk college kids mistake two creepy-looking, but well-meaning hillbillies — the eponymous; Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) — for serial killers. After a misunderstanding, the college kids spend the rest of the film attacking Tucker and Dale, while managing to accidentally kill themselves off gruesomely (and hilariously) one by one. Rinse-and-repeat.
I know what you’re thinking. This sounds like an “SNL” or (puke) “MADtv skit stretched out to feature-length running time. How can that possibly be good? The film is made excellent through great acting and chemistry among the leads, a clever script that moves briskly through the various set-pieces and a real emotional core at the center of it all. The latter reason is the most important, but I’ll get to it later.
First let’s look at Alan “Firefly” Tudyk and Tyler Labine as our leads. This movie is dependent on their chemistry. Luckily director Eli Craig Lavoisier’d that bitch (Ed note: famous chemist. We had to look him up). They are so warm, likable and believable as long-time pals, that it would be impossible to not be on their side.
What also makes the movie work is just how creepy these actors look. When they’re first introduced, it’s totally understandable how the college students would be frightened by these unkempt, dirty, steely-eyed, good ol’ boys carrying sharp objects. If they looked too nice we’d never believe the kids would be frightened, and if they weren’t able to let humanity shine past their horrible visages, we wouldn’t have a movie. It is a delicate balance, but they are able to make it work gracefully.
The contrast between how things appear and what they really are constitutes the film’s entire conceit. They are able to hit upon the differences none too subtly by including witty dialogue. For example, one college girl who befriends Dale says she wants to be a psychiatrist because she believes miscommunication is the root of most problems. The humor relies on us seeing the story from both sides simultaneously.
The script is able to get a lot of mileage out of its send-up of Southern horror flicks by playing our prejudices against us. Another good example occurs when one of the kids decides to investigate Tucker and Dale’s (obviously creepy-looking) cabin, where he sees Tucker outside revving up a chainsaw. It turns out Tucker is simply going to cut down some trees. The setup is obvious, but the anticipation makes it funny. It only gets better once Tucker hits a beehive embedded in the log, making him swing the chainsaw wildly like a madman. So it a) makes it obvious Tucker is oblivious to how psycho he appears, and b) makes it obvious why the college kids would believe he is evil. There’s even a part at the end of the scene where Tucker wonders if the college kid was allergic to bees since he was running so fast. The fact that the script could do so many variations on this type of gag is a testament to the talent of the cast and crew. In fact, many of the setups are predictable (another memorable one involves a woodchipper that rivals “Fargo”); however, they are all perfectly executed. Most of the humor comes from just how confused Tucker and Dale are about kids seemingly killing themselves on their property.
Finally, I arrive at the heart of the movie. The core of the story is about how Dale feels inadequate — he thinks he’s ugly, dumb and fat. Tucker spends the whole movie trying to get Dale to feel better. When Dale saves one of the college kids, Allison (the beautiful Katrina Bowden), from drowning at the beginning of the film, we see a cute romance bloom as they learn to look past their exteriors (Dale as chubby hillbilly and Alison as unattainable blonde) to see who they really are as people. And it’s believable, for the most part. So beyond the idea of gruesome deaths and Southern-fried humor, it’s a cute story about believing in yourself and the power of friendship. Without that core, the film would just be an amusing farce that’s fun but disposable. But the aforementioned chemistry of the leads, combined with the dark humor, deepens the foundation and lets this movie blossom into a potential cult classic.
Now, no film is without its missteps. The villain is too serious, there are a few scenes that don’t seem to fit well with the others and the climax was a tad too dark for the overall tone of the film. But these are all nitpicks, and the movie is still great.
I’m not typically a fan of horror, especially not Southern horror. So I’m recommending this film not as a genre fan, but as a testament to good filmmaking and storytelling. Anyone should be able to pick this up and enjoy it. Yes, even Grandma. Spread the word, people. We need more Tuckers and Dales to fight the evil of mediocrity and complacency in the multiplexes. It’s on Netflix streaming as of this writing, but if this gets popular enough, who knows? Maybe there will be less “Jack and Jill’s” and “The Change-Ups” next year.