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What’s so scary about a stereotypical hillbilly? Is it the penchant for wearing flannel? The ridiculous teeth? The cousin-lovin’? The banjos? None of it seems terrifying on paper, but an entire horror subgenre and classic films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Deliverance have been formed around these ridiculous characters. But what if the yokels aren’t the violent animals that they seem to be, but rather misunderstood simple folk that get caught up in a series of horrific coincidences? Enter writer/director Eli Craig’s Tucker & Dale vs. Evil.
As the title suggests, the film centers on two rednecks named Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) who buy a ramshackle rural cabin that they intend to use as their vacation home. Meanwhile, in the same area, a group of college kids, led by the ridiculously aggressive Chad (Jesse Moss), arrive to do some camping during spring break. Things get a bit hairy when one of the college girls, Allison (Katrina Bowden), nearly drowns during night swim and is rescued by the two protagonists. What the pair doesn’t realize is that the twenty-somethings are convinced that Tucker and Dale have kidnapped their friend and try anything to get her back.
As our dimwitted, well-intentioned hillbilly heroes, Labine and Tudyk aren't just great individually, but have great chemistry as a duo. Though neither character is an achiever in the IQ department, Labine’s Dale is wonderfully charming and naïve dummy who you can’t help but love, particularly when he becomes a ball of nerves around the beautiful Allison. Conversely, Tudyk’s Tucker is more like the straight-man, but also gets to do quite a bit of physical comedy, be it waving around a chainsaw while being attacked by bees or trying to pull someone out of a woodchipper (and then asking them if they’re okay). A classic straight man-funny man set up in the vein of Abbot and Costello or Laurel and Hardy, the two actors have a great repartee, despite the fact that the characters don’t have a clue between them.
Also worth noting is the awesome production design atmosphere. Because the creepy, backwoods environment is so vital to the hillbilly horror genre, director Eli Craig has gone all out to replicate the experience. Reminiscent of the cabin in Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, the house that Tucker and Dale buy is both excessively spine-chilling and hilariously dilapidated, but the two Southern boys treat it like a palace. Likewise, the forest is dense enough that you can only see to the middle distance and no further, and there’s a consistent stream of fog and smoke wafting around to create an unsettling environment. If Tucker & Dale vs. Evil had played it straight instead of making a parody, the location could have stayed exactly the same.
What prevents the film from being exceptional is that it relies on the same joke for its entire runtime. Playing up the misunderstanding that makes Tucker and Dale look like sadistic nutjobs, the college kids accidentally kill themselves one by one trying to save Allison. The problem is that this eventually gets repetitive and the law of diminishing returns takes over. The death scenes are generally creative enough, but eventually the audience begins to anticipate what will happen next and the shock value is removed. You laugh from beginning to end, but the parody aspect of the film becomes exponentially weaker as the story goes on.
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is an immensely likable horror-comedy and easy to recommend, but also full of missed opportunities. While movie has terrific performances and is certainly filled with more than its fair share of gore and mayhem, its repetitive nature does detract from the overall experience.