Neflix has been recommending it to me for months, but I'd been avoiding it because it looked like Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy Battle Zombies. Finally, though, the Lone Republican at work was telling me about it, and for some reason -- even though he normally only recommends dystopian military sci-fi (not a genre I care for) -- I decided to check it out. Now I'm having second thoughts about dismissing that movie about cavemen with rocket launchers.
Tucker & Dale vs Evil begins as an SUV full of college kids barrels down the highway toward the middle of nowhere, where they plan to spend the weekend getting drunk, skinny dipping, and doing all the other things college kids do in movies. The stop at a mom & pop convenience store to purchase beer, and there they are noticed by Tucker and Dale, a couple of backwoods sorta hillbilly sorta country bumpkins played (respectively) by Alan Tudyk (Firefly's Wash) and Tyler Labine (the guy who's too drunk to notice that they're making a porno in Zack & Miri Make a Porno). Tucker is the skinny guy with a lot of energy, and Dale is the chubbier, slower one. Dale notices the girls and laments that he'll never even get to talk to someone so pretty. "Go on over there," says Tucker. "You can't get shot down if you don't even ask. Go on, you've got as good a chance as anybody. Be sure to smile and laugh a lot."
So Dale goes over, attempts smalltalk while smiling and laughing in the most disturbing way, and gets branded a creep. The kids hurry off, leaving Dale depressed.
Tucker has recently purchased a vacation home without having seen it, and they've come to spend the weekend, maybe get some fishing done, but no such luck. It's a real fixer-upper; it's not actually a soon-to-collapse hellhole, but it's full of crap from the old tenants, including some disconcerting bones, and a wall covered with yellowing newspaper stories about a local serial killer. "Guy musta been a real news buff," observes Dale.
That night Tucker and Dale are out fishing on the lake when they realize the kids are skinny dipping. They're the only ones to notice when one of the girls falls backwards, hits her head, and doesn't come up from the water, so they paddle out to her and drag her into the boat. "Hey," screams Dale, "we got your friend!" It is the wrong choice of words.
The next day the girl wakes up, and does an understandable amount of screaming when she doesn't recognize her surroundings. It's a rocky start, but Dale calms her down, discovers her name is Allison, and feeds her breakfast. They play board games while Tucker does some yardwork. Meanwhile, at their campsite, the kids are plotting how they'll overpower the two hillbilly redneck freaks to get their friend back. Slowly and stealthily, they descend on the cabin, just in time for Tucker to drive his chainsaw through a nest of wasps. He comes around the side of the house, screaming and flailing the chainsaw. The kids scatter, and one of them manages to impale himself fatally on a downed branch. When the kids discover him later, they read it as a warning from Tucker and Dale.
This is the premise of the movie: Tucker and Dale are nice guys doing the right thing, but it just doesn't work out for them. The kids misinterpret every accident as an act of aggression, and it just gets worse and worse and worse and worse as more of them die. "I got it!" says Tucker. "They have a suicide pact!" "My god," says Dale, "that makes so much sense."
I have seen this before. Shakespeare loved this kind of pandemonium, and it's the same blueprint followed by Burn After Reading, Very Bad Things, and Arsenic and Old Lace. I hadn't realized it previously, but it's a style that lends itself very well to dark comedies.
Of course, all the pandemonium in the world won't pay off in a movie if you can't advance the plot toward something, and to this end, Tucker and Dale has its villain. One of the kids takes charge of the situation. He thinks he's embraced his inner survivalist, but he's actually unleashed his inner sociopath, and nobody is safe.
I probably haven't done a good job of making this movie sound hilarious, but it is. It had such potential to be mired in stupid redneck jokes, but it neatly sidesteps that, and benefits from a better quality of humor. Tucker and Dale are pretty smart for horror movie characters. A little inarticulate, maybe, owing to Dale's introversion and Tucker's near-hostile antisocial tendencies. With the exception of Allison, the college kids are less well developed, but I don't think we really need them to be. Yes, Allison ends up with Dale at the end (sorry, but it's not really a spoiler -- you already know that this is how movie love stories work). In most movies this kind of pairing is about Allison learning to see past Dale's faults, but in this one Dale is the one who grows, and it's convincing.
Which is all to say that it's well written and well executed. Tucker and Dale vs Evil is the work of Eli Craig (Sally Fields' son, apparently), and this is his first feature. Like The Cabin in the Woods, this one works by upending the conventions of slasher movies. IMDB calls it a "horror/comedy", and I'm not sure how else you'd classify it, though it's missing the supernatural element that I like in my horror. Still, I'm glad I gave in and watched this one; it didn't look like my kind of movie, but it's one of my favorites of the month.
Here's the trailer.