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PARK CITY — Typical expectations are upended in the horror-comedy Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Eli Craig‘s feature directorial debut and an endearingly cheeky tribute to suspense and slasher classics. A Park City at Midnight selection, the film played overwhelmingly well to a packed audience that filled the Library theater with laughter and cheers.
When the dust settles around the festival’s higher-profile acquisitions contenders, distributors would do well to circle back and consider this amusingly well-executed genre hybrid. A targeted theatrical release could help leverage a profitable following for cable and DVD.
Best buds Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and overweight, self esteem-challenged Dale (Tyler Labine) are a couple of “hillbillies” headed to their new fixer-upper vacation cabin in the mountains of West Virginia when they have a little run-in with a group of college kids at the local country store that thoroughly spooks the young visitors.
Obnoxious, preppy Chad (Jesse Moss) has arranged a weekend camping in the woods with his classmates, but in reality he’d just like to get pretty Allison (Katrina Bowden) alone for a while. A bit creeped out by Tucker and Dale‘s odd demeanor, the kids drive into the hills and set up camp while the good ol’ boys assess their run-down property and get to work on repairs. Fishing in the nearby lake that night, the pair rescues Allison after she’s hit on the head by a large boulder and falls unconscious into the water.
Her friends, however, are convinced that the hillbillies have kidnapped her, or worse, and try to devise a rescue plan. Back at the cabin, Allison is shocked to recover consciousness in Dale’s bedroom, but the confusion is soon sorted out and she offers to help the boys with their chores.
Dale is starting to fall hard for Allison just as her friends launch their assault — two of the kids accidentally die as a result, one impaled on his own homemade spear and the other in the woodchipper, where he lands after trying to take Tucker out. Dale and Tucker quickly conclude that the kids have come to the woods for some kind of suicide pact that they should try to avert, but that’s before things go from very weird to very much worse.
Co-writer Morgan Jurgenson and Craig deploy a series of horror and suspense movie conventions and film references (“Friday the 13th,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Fargo”) throughout the HD production to ratchet up the dread, pushing the narrative in some amusingly unexpected directions. Labine and Tudyk are uproariously spot-on as the bewildered bumpkins, with Bowden providing a note of sweetness as the love interest in contrast to Moss’ deranged frat boy.
Craig and cinematographer David Geddes’ complex exterior shots in the woods and inventive camerawork inside the cramped cabin create a varied visual style that propels the film’s twists and turns with spirited panache.
If there’s any likelihood of a sequel, Dale and Tucker are probably up for anything after facing down Evil.
Venue: Sundance Film Festival
Production: Reliance Big Pictures and Loubyloo Productions present in association with Eden Rock Media, Urban Island and Kintop Pictures
Cast: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss, Brandon Jay McLaren, Cristie Laing, Chelan Simmons
Director: Eli Craig
Screenwriters: Eli Craig, Morgan Jurgenson
Producers: Albert Klychak, Rosanne Milliken, Deepak Nayar and Morgan Jurgenson
Executive Producers: Thomas Augsberger, Mark Ryan
Director of photography: David Geddes
Production designer: John Blackie
Music: Mike Shields
Costumes: Mary Hyde-Kerr
Editor: Bridget Durnford
Sales: Eden Rock Media
No Rating, 86 minutes
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