October 27, 2011

The Pitfalls of Miscommunication

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A group of ditzy, beautiful college students go camping in the woods of some isolated part of America that has no cell phone reception. They’re ready to have a good time, but oh no! Someone forgot the beer. So they stop at a gas station to buy beer. The local hillbillies snicker at them. The students exchange nervous glances. A menacing hillbilly even approaches the prettiest girl with a scythe in hand at the gas station… And guess what? The college teens are all white except for one token black guy. You can tell where this is going. Yes, they’re about to die horrible deaths within the next hour and a half.

But they bring it upon themselves, literally.

And that’s where the fun comes in. Tucker and Dale are two hillbillies vacationing in their run-down cabin, which happens to be very close to a group of inebriated college kids. All they want to do is relax, fish and drink some beers. But this proves to be impossible after Dale rescues one of the college students from drowning, an act that the teens assume to be a kidnapping.

The movie escalates when the kids attempt to save their friend from Tucker and Dale, who are assumed to be evil hillbillies like in most other horror movies. But in the process of trying to save their friend, they manage to kill themselves in increasingly gory ways. There’s a lot of tripping and falling into various sharp objects and a wood grinder. Meanwhile, all Tucker and Dale can do is attempt to keep their heads out of trouble.

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil plays on the hilarity of misunderstandings between peoples. As things spiral downward into fear, the misunderstandings worsen and both sides become less forgiving and less willing to compromise. At its best, Tucker and Dale manages to be not just a horror parody but also a comical allegory on human nature.

As an allegory, Tucker and Dale is brilliantly conceived. Each character does not have a character so much as a character stereotype. Obviously, the movie is determined to play on horror typologies— the stupid kids who have an affinity for skinny dipping and getting slaughtered, the hillbillies who always own creepy cabins filled with sinister tools in the middle of nowhere?

For the entire movie the two groups recognize each other only as “college kids” and “hillbillies.” But the film also goes beyond stereotypes. Within the group of college kids, there’s Travis, the coward. There’s Chad, who seems to have a real streak of evil. There’s also Allison, who constantly tries to mediate the longstanding conflict between the two groups, mostly to no avail.

It all starts with a misunderstanding of cultures, and escalates into a conflict with brutal consequences. In fact, we can use this template for most current conflicts: Democrats vs. Republicans, U.S. vs. terrorism, Wall Street protestors vs. (unknown?).

As Allison blatantly states, “I just think that so many of the major problems and conflicts in the world are caused by lack of communication, you know?” And such is the case in this film.

But while the conflicts might play out like a heated debate in congress with some name calling in the newspapers, it portrays itself as blood and gore in Tucker and Dale.This brutality is, of course, one of the most obvious visual metaphors in the movie.

And if it weren’t for this unfolding message, Tucker and Dale would just be a barely serviceable comedy. It lacks the wit of better horror comedies like Shaun of the Dead or Scream, both of which are funnier and scarier.

Unfortunately, Tucker and Dale plays stupid, not unlike its main characters. They’re stupid people, and to be fair, so are the college students. But their dialogue is stupid too and only manages to be mildly amusing. None of the jokes are nuanced or  unexpected. The only jokes that really induce true laughter are the horror conventions and the overarching joke of how people can misunderstand each other so badly.

Luckily, Tucker and Dale chooses the right genre for  its allegory. The mediocre jokes are interspersed with just enough moments of gleeful gore to keep the audience entertained.

Original Author: Kyle Chang