It starts unpromisingly. First there’s a pre-title sequence that suggests you are about to see yet another found footage horror film (you aren’t), then it cuts to a group of college kids (the usual collection of jocks and hot girlfriends) heading off for a weekend camping in remote woods. The average horror fan should feel their heart sinking into their stomach. Well fear not, because from this standard slasher opening Tucker & Dale vs Evil (let’s call it T&D from now on) flips conventions and takes the audience into a bizarro version of a rural-shitkicker farm-implement massacre movie where every cliché has been turned through 180 degrees.
After the college twerps discover they have forgotten to pack beer (the HORROR!!!) they pull over at a roadside store straight out of Deliverance. Also picking up supplies are Tucker and Dale, two dungaree-clad, dirty cap-wearing hillbillies who look to have come straight out of central casting. The pair are travelling up to Tucker’s fixer-upper holiday home (or spooky-ass-looking cabin in the woods to you and me) for a spot of fishing, a bit of DIY, and a whole mess of drinking (PBR – Pabst Blue Ribbon or nothing else). Tucker (Tudyk from Dodgeball and Firefly), the more worldly of the two, advises his shy friend Dale (Labine from TV’s Reaper and Mad Love) to talk to one of the girls. It doesn’t go well, possibly not helped by the massive scythe Dale is carrying at the time, or his tongue-tied social awkwardness and hulking stature. The city slickers see him as a scary inbred redneck and freak out, leaving the hillbillies in a cloud of dust.
Things get really messed up later that night. Around the campfire, the really irritating Chad (Moss) – a man who turns the collar up on his polo shirt – winds his friends up a scary tale of how his parents were attacked by hillbillies. To break the intense mood, the group then decide to go skinny dipping, as you do. Unfortunately, Tucker and Dale just happen to be fishing in the same creek. When the girl who earlier caught Dale’s eye, Allison (30 Rock’s Bowden), is startled by our heroes and nearly drowns, Dale dives in to save her. Unfortunately this is interpreted by the rest of the group as a kidnapping.
From this point on the paths of the hillbillies and the college kids crisscross in an escalating series of mutual misunderstandings that turn increasingly bloody and violent. The kids think they have stumbled onto the set of Wrong Turn and the hillbillies think the kids are in the grip of suicidal drug psychosis.
This is a rare film that manages to pull off the trick of making smart look like dumb. The way Tucker and Dale’s every action, no matter how innocent, genuinely appear to the college kids as threats, and equally the actions of the college kids appear to Tucker and Dale to be the actions of deranged lunatics, is quite brilliantly done. Neither group can see the big picture, but the audience gets a bird’s eye view and much comedy is generated by the audience being clued into the next disaster while the characters are oblivious.
This is a seriously funny film, and an almost unprecidented example of a horror farce. The dialogue as consistently inventive and sharp as a top-quality US sitcom, the gory violence orchestrated as brilliantly timed physical splatstick, and there are three really great comic performances from Tudyk (watch his eyes), Bowden (initially filling the role of the cute chick, but gradually developing into a very funny character in her own right), and especially Labine, who brings an endearing innocence and childlike wonder to his character. Watch out for a line from Tudyk about sandwiches, which is one of the single funniest in any film released this year.
While T&D will be especially hilarious for horror fans who will delight in seeing tungsten-coated conventions being fed into a woodchipper and thoroughly shredded, this is a film with serious crossover potential to find a more mainstream audience. Behind the carnage and claret is a film that is as disarmingly sweet as Labine’s lovable lunk. This is the most satisfying horror comedy since Shaun of the Dead, and a future cult classic in the making.