A title like Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010) is bound to get the attention of a Catholic like me. I love the notion of doing battle with evil, though if you read my review of The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, you will know that, spiritually speaking, I do not believe such forces should be trifled with lightly. Luckily, that is not what Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is about, though the promotional material can be a bit misleading. With title characters Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) adorn the cover holding chainsaws and other construction equipment, looking like they are either going to be facing a zombie horde or doing some extreme building. Either way, it did not strike my fancy eleven years ago. I am happy to say that I have now corrected that error.
A group of college kids on their way to a camp out in the hills of West Virginia eventually opens Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. As they head down a lone country byway (cue the John Denver), they are passed by two hillbillies who awkwardly stare at them as they go. These are Tucker and Dale. The college group and Tucker and Dale all end up at a nearby gas station. The young men and women find the gas station and its attendants creepy, and Tucker and Dale do nothing to change their minds. Dale makes it stranger when one of the women, Allison (Katrina Bowden), catches his eye and he decides the best way to attempt to talk to her is while holding a giant sickle. As Dale describes it, he has a strange brain. Unsurprisingly, Dale is shot down, and he and Dale continue their trek. They are on their way to check out a new vacation home Tucker had purchased, a run-down log cabin in the middle of the woods in which, as hillbillies, they seem perfectly comfortable. To anyone else, it appears to be a murder cabin, and it is even decorated with bones. As for the co-eds, they make it to their camp site where their de facto leader, Chad (Jesse Moss), tells them a story of pack of hillbillies who had murdered a similar set of college aged adults on that very spot. They all dismiss him, though, and decide to go swimming instead. Given the irresponsible age that they are, they decide to enter the water sans clothing. And who should come by, of course, but Tucker and Dale, who happen to be out on the lake fishing. The first to spot Tucker and Dale is Allison, who proceeds to slip in shock on the rock on which she is undressing, and slides unconscious into the water. Tucker and Dale are the only ones who seem to notice the danger Allison is in, and pull her out and take her away. As they row to the other side of the lake, Allison’s friends misconstrue Tucker and Dale’s actions as a kidnapping. Determined to get her back, Chad leads the rest to search for where Allison could have been taken, and they come upon the disturbing looking log cabin. The one chosen to investigate further is Mitch (Adam Beauchesne). As he approaches the humble abode, the sound of a chainsaw can be heard. This is Tucker in the back cutting through some wood, but as he does, he disturbs a bee’s nest. Not wanting to get swarmed, he takes off running with screeching cutting tool in hand, straight at Mitch. Now both are sprinting: Tucker trying to evade the bees, and Mitch thinking that Tucker wants to slice him up. As Tucker outpaces him, Mitch is distracted and impales himself on a sharp stick sticking out of the ground, killing him. This leads to a series of equally unlikely deaths of all the college kids, except for Allison and Chad. Allison survives, though she is knocked unconscious a few times, because she begins to develop a relationship with Dale. Despite their apparent differences, they share a lot in common. As for Chad, as he explained with the lurid tale of hillbilly mayhem, he holds a vendetta against all mountain/country folk because his parents were among the victims. Thus, it is his desire for revenge that spurs everyone on to their untimely, accidental demises. Despite Allison’s attempts to reconcile the situation using her woefully under-trained psychology major, Chad remains intent on death, particularly after he is partially burned. In the process of trying to flee, Tucker is seriously wounded and Allison is captured. Dale tracks them down to a nearby sawmill. He is able to save Allison by throwing chamomile tea into Chad’s face, a substance to which the young man is violently allergic. With the danger passed, Dale visits Tucker in the hospital before going on a bowling date with Allison. The end.
Reading this description of Tucker and Dale vs. Evil might make it seem more serious than it is actually presented. While death is never funny, the film is actually a comedy. Tucker and Dale have no ulterior motives for anything they do. They simply want to spend a weekend at their new cabin fishing. The “evil” is thrust upon them, and they are forced to react to it. Throughout most of the first half of the film, I kept wondering why they do not call the police. It is a logical enough solution. As Tucker eventually asks, though, how could they explain to lawmen that they were not responsible for all the dead bodies suddenly on their property? Ultimately, all the deaths get pinned on Chad, who is really the one most responsible for leading his friends to their violent ends. Again, this does not sound like it would be chuckle-worthy, but what the film is going for is a send-up of many of the classic slasher film tropes, particularly those that deal with hillbillies, turning them on their heads. Instead of being the killers, Tucker and Dale are the innocent heroes, and it works.
I used the word “innocent” purposely in describing the protagonists of Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. Both of them are just trying to survive, but it is Dale who I feel best typifies this virtue. The Catholic Church refers to helping people, especially those in distress, as corporal acts of mercy. Though none of them specifically say anything about assisting women who knock themselves out while getting naked and almost drowning, Allison could qualify as being “sick.” I am not trying to sound flippant here, but I wish to draw attention to the gentleness with which Dale treats Allison. He also seems incapable of harming anyone, even those who wish to kill him. While he does shoot a nail gun at the college kids when they surround the cabin, none of them hit their mark. When he is trying to save Allison, though he does spike Chad’s leg, Dale’s axe throw is aimed not at his attacker but rather at freeing her. Finally, he is a gentleman towards Allison. Instead of wanting to gawk at the young ladies taking off their clothes as Tucker does, Dale asks whether or not they should be there, let along peaking. At every turn, he displays a virtuosity that this Catholic can get behind, even with all the terrible things going on around him.
If you have trouble with blood and gore, I would not recommend seeing Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. If you can stomach it, though, you are in for an entertaining film, despite the death. In the end, Tucker and Dale triumph over evil in the form of prejudice and hate. It may be in a strange package, but the right people come out on top.