You know when the opening moments of a film pay homage to Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Wrong Turn, it will either be good fun or go terribly awry. As we are introduced to the college kids driving into the appalachian hills for a weekend of debauchery, it is a little uncertain. These are very cartoonish and seemingly vapid characters.
As they are driving, they almost collide with a beat up old pickup truck. As the truck passes them, the occupants stare at the college kids ominously. foreshadowing of the cruel plans they have for these kids? It turns out… not really. Tucker (played by Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are on their way to Tucker’s newly purchased vacation home for some relaxing and fishing. The kids run into the duo at a gas station, where we discover that Dale is painfully shy. Tucker tries to give him a pep talk (You are a good looking man, in a way) to go over and talk to the pretty college girl Ali (30 Rock’s Katrina Bowden). Unfortunately, in his attempts to appear confident (including walking over with a scythe) he comes off scary.
At the vacation home, Tucker and Dale discover all sorts of signs of an ominous past-but look right past them. Tucker assumes the bones dangling from the ceiling show the previous owner to have been an archeologist. Newpaper clippings on the wall about a massacre of college students is met with the assumption that the previous occupant was a news buff.
But it is when Tucker and Dale decide to go doing some night fishing it all goes wrong. When they save Ali from drowning, her friends assume they attacked her and flee. Tucker and Dale decide the best thing to do is tend her wounds and return her to her friends the next morning.
But one of the college kids, Chad, becomes obsessed with the idea that they must fight the evil hillbillies and rescue Ali. While the other kids suggest getting the cops, he is certain that is a terrible idea. Chad sees himself as special and unique-better than everyone else. This mentality has him certain that he and the attractive Ali should be hooking up (in spite of her resistance). He also has a history with Hillbillies that drives his relentless desire to destroy Tucker and Dale.
This all leads to a series of events where the kids attack the two-and die in the process. This leads them to conclude the kids are part of a suicide cult. And from the there the misunderstandings continue. Ali attempts to resolve the conflict, but through a comedy of errors, the now formed trio cannot convince her friends that Tucker and Dale are quite kind guys.
The film sends up the idea of the final dual, with a final twist and the downfall of preppie Chad. The film has a lot of fun with it’s reversal of the Mutant Cannibal Hillbilly premise. There are plenty of clever jokes and visual references to other films (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Fargo, Deliverance, etc). As the leads, Tudyk and Labine are well cast, and tremendously likable characters. Bowden does a nice job as the only sympathetic member of the college entourage. Director Eli Craig shows promise, as this is a pretty strong debut (so far, Craig has directed a short and an episode of the TV show Brothers & Sisters).
I found the film to be enjoyable, with many laughs. It understands the weaknesses and absurdities of the genre and has fun with them. And again, there is no understating how important the casting of Tudyk and Labine were to the film, as they are the ones who bring the heart of the film. In a world with films like Epic Movie and Vampires Suck, it is nice to discover a film that understands the need for characters-even in parody.