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Sundance Review: Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

By  · Published on January 23rd, 2010

Do you like horror movies? The ones where college kids are randomly murdered in the woods? Do you also like great satire, the likes of which borders on Mel Brooksian levels of nuance and reverence, but also delivers laughs by the truck load? If you answered yes to these questions, pull up a chair. You’re going to love where this goes.

From (self admitted) failed actor turned first time director Eli Craig comes Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, the story of two simple hillbillies who are just trying to enjoy a little time at their recently purchased vacation home in the woods. But from moment one, something is not right. A group of college kids are also traveling to the woods, and from where they are sitting, these two country bumpkins (played perfectly by Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine) are trouble. It all leads to confrontation when the “hot blonde girl,” played by Sex Drive object of affection Katrina Bowden, has an accident while skinny dipping (in her underwear, no less) and must be rescued by the heroic, but doltish Dale (Labine).

This of course, causes the rest of the college kids to believe that their lovely friend has been captured by two enemies of fun. Led by the intensely over-the-top Chad (Jesse Moss), the kids wage a full assault on Tucker and Dale, ultimately doing more harm to themselves than anyone else.

At that point, the blood begins to spill in what Tucker (Tudyk) describes as “a bunch of college kids runnin’ around killin’ themselves.” The story moves from sick gag accidental death to sick gag accidental death, each more creative than the last. Kids are diving head first in to woodchippers, having trouble with handguns and running into sharp sticks, just to name a few. It’s like watching a Final Destination film, if it were clever, funny and thoroughly enjoyable to watch.

Just as Eli Craig’s passion project oozes with the blood of the nubile, it also flows with humor. There’s a great deal of attention to detail here, creating a nuanced comedic landscape. For example, early on in the film we see the college kids drive up to a gas station in rural West Virginia. Outside this hillbilly fuel station is an old timey well with a big metal faucet. We see there a scraggly, dirty little hillbilly kid pumping water into a bucket. It has nothing to do with the story, but its there. And its presence draws a big laugh. Details like these are what make this movie smart – that, and all the awesome kills and hilarious one-off moments between Tudyk and Labine.

Speaking of Tudyk and Labine. These guys are the Laurel and Hardy of modern hillbillies. Their presence together on screen is always met with sharp wit (more credit to writer/director Craig goes here) and superb deadpan delivery. These guys are relentlessly funny, as is the movie around them. Also entertaining is Jesse Moss, who as I mentioned is plenty over the top as the frat house leader of the college kids. He’s insanely fun as he amplifies a classic horror cliche. As for the ladies, I will admit to being captivated by the sweet Katrina Bowden.

The only problems experienced were all the kinds that would be fixed by a distributor, which this movie deserves. There are some odd voiceover problems and some hiccups in the cutting together of scenes. (This is something I’ve seen so much of at Sundance. Are there no great editors in indie production these days?) The rest of the movie is sound. It has great energy and a perfectly moody score that enhances the brilliantly executed Deliverance style ambiance.

If we think back to horror comedies of recent past, such as Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell, there is a problem. For many people, such films are either too much a comedy or too much a horror film (or perhaps just trying to hard in either direction). This film is the pitch-perfect mix of both. It is a damn riot. I’ve not laughed this hard or had so many “ohs” (due to kills) in a single movie in a long while. Take note, those of you in Hollywood making awful satire. There is a right way to send up a genre, and this is it.

Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)