The horror genre, possibly more than any other in cinema, has specific tropes and clichÃ©s that recur over and over again. The teens in peril sub-genre is so templated that the makers of the Final Destination franchise are able to make minor variations on the same film over and over again and still turn a profit “ a lot of their audience want to play at working out who’ll be the next to die and in what gruesome way it will take place.
Of course, one of the benefits of these ˜templates’ is the opportunity to subvert them “ something that the Scream series did with huge success by allowing the characters an understanding of the conventions of the situation they found themselves in. And the same thing happens in Tucker and Dale vs. Evil “ when a group of college kids head out for a weekend camping in West Virginia, they know they’re not a million miles away from Deliverance Country “ it makes the trip a little more exciting. And when they stop at a gas station and an overweight, bushily bearded, scythe wielding yokel wanders over to talk to Alison (Katrina Bowden) they know enough to hit the road as fast as they can.
Which is a shame, as the overweight, bushily bearded man is Dale (Tyler Labine) “ a nice guy, just a little awkward around women (hence the scythe). He’s on his way to a new holiday cabin he and his best buddy Tucker (Alan Tudyk) have just bought out in the woods. They’re both nice guys “ and they’re headed to the same area as the college kids. Maybe they could all be friends. But the group’s preconceptions and movie-based fears of murderous hillbillies put paid to that idea.
Later, their preconceptions cause much bigger problems “ when Alison hits her head on a rock while swimming, Tucker and Dale are on hand to fish her out of the lake. They’re confused to find that this seems to cause panic amongst her companions, who don’t seem reassured by their shouts of ˜We’ve got your friend!’ In fact, this makes them run away even faster if anything. And from this small misunderstanding, a large bloodbath ensues, as the group decide they must fight the psycho hillbillies who have captured their fried. Unfortunately, while the kids have seen the movies, they are also utterly incompetent when it comes peril, and somehow manage to start picking themselves off as effectively as any slasher could, much to the horror and bafflement of Tucker and Dale.
The basic premise of Tucker and Dale is a fun one “ what if a group of overly film-literate kids convince themselves they’re in a situation they recognise from horror films? “ and the decision to play it for laughs rather than scares (though there’s still a good deal of bloodshed) is a good one. But the problem is that the answer to the question posed in the premise is there’s probably a small amount of amusing confusion, but then it all gets sorted out. And there’s really only about half an hour’s worth of movie in that, so the premise ends up getting really stretched “ in fact much of the enjoyment comes from seeing how the writers can possibly prevent the situation from getting resolved, and instead add another blood-splattered accident that only convinces the kids even more that they are up against dangerous lunatics.
Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine are very likeable leads, who appear genuinely baffled by the whole thing, and the movie is entertaining enough. It’s even got a surprising amount of heart, as some sort of relationship begins to blossom between Dale and Alison – in a way that works, even though it shouldn’t. The big problem Tucker and Dale has is that The Cabin in the Woods was released not long after it, in which a similar group of college kids head into the woods and are greeted by an absolute barrage of ideas, movie references, jokes, gallons of blood, plot twists and utter madness. In comparison, the lone strong idea at the heart of Tucker and Dale, being stretched and stretched until it almost breaks, doesn’t feel like quite enough.