Thursday, February 4, 2010

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

Genre: Horror-Comedy
Premise: Two hillbillies are accused of being killers by a group of college kids camping near the duo's cabin.
About: Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil was shot up in Canada, and made its world premiere at Sundance, where it was purchased by Maple Pictures. Alan Tudyk, who will be familiar to Joss Whedon fans, plays the part of Tucker. Eli Craig and Morgan Jurgenson, the writers, met in USC film school and have mainly been working on short films in various capacities (producer, editor, electrician). This is their first feature film, which Craig also directed. You can learn more about the film and Craig in this interview he did with Firstshowing.
Writers: Eli Craig and Morgan Jurgensen
Details: 106 pages (April 9th, 2009 Draft)

Whenever I review a script, I open up a separate document to keep track of characters, keep track of key plot points, and to jot down any necessary screenwriting knowledge gained from the experience. It’s something I don’t really like doing, because it prevents me from just reading and enjoying the screenplay. Well every once in awhile a script comes along where I don’t have to do any of that. Cause the script is so simple and so straight-forward, that I can read the whole thing in one sitting and, gasp, remember it all. Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil is definitely one of those scripts.

Now this can be seen as a good thing or a bad thing. Good because scripts are supposed to be easy reads. Bad because even in the simplest of genres, you would like to have some complexity in your story. I think it's safe to say that if you have a character running into a woodchipper, complexity is not a priority of yours. But hey, this is neither here nor there. What's important in the end is: Did it work? And the answer is...well...for the most part, yes.

Tucker and Dale are two hillbillies looking to spend a weekend at their new “vacation home” up in the mountains. Tucker is the “brains” of the group, a natural leader. If he were leading a group of zoo animals and retarded children that is. The big-boned Dale may not have inherited Tucker’s intellect, but the man’s got a heart the size of an Appalachian mountain. Unfortunately for poor Dale, he’s plagued with self-worth issues, and is afraid he’ll never have the confidence to talk to a woman. Tucker is constantly trying to pump up his confidence, but poor Dale is a hopeless cause.

In the meantime, a group of 9 college kids are also planning to spend some time in the mountains. While the majority of them are clich├ęs (created as so), the two that matter are Allison, a beautiful girl who doesn’t quite fit into the college mold, and Chad, a slightly weird control freak who believes Allison belongs to him (she doesn't). The two groups run into each other at a local gas station, and not surprisingly the college kids assume that Tucker and Dale are freaky cannibal serial killing hillbillies.

Once Tucker and Dale get to their house, they quickly set off fishing, only to stumble across Allison accidentally bumping her head, passing out, and falling into the lake. Naturally, Tucker and Dale come to her rescue, with Tucker forced to give her mouth-to-mouth. The other college kids come upon this event right at that moment, and obviously assume, in the dim light, that Tucker is eating her face, and will probably take her back to his lair to chop her into a million pieces.The drunk group decides to band together and get Allison back, and our movie officially begins.

Dale and Tucker have no idea the college kids are scared of them, and therefore have no idea what's going on when they attack. The thing is, the college kids are so incredibly stupid, that in all their fear and rage and drunkeness, keep accidentally killing themselves. Dale is digging a “shitter hole” to go to the bathroom but the kids think he’s digging Allison’s grave. So they charge after him with a spear, only to trip, fall into the hole, and land on the spear themselves. Tucker is innocently trying out his woodchipper, unaware he's being charged at from behind. Just by coincidence he moves to grab a new piece of wood, and the kid goes flying into the woodchipper. Once Tucker and Dale do start to see what's going on, they wonder why a bunch of college kids have all of a sudden turned into castoffs from M. Night's "The Happening." (I've been trying to work in a "Happening" reference for 3 months now)

In the meantime, back at the house, Allison comes to, and Dale is forced to overcome his fear of talking to women. The pair begin to form a friendship, and possibly even more. However when the last of the college kids, Chad, turns out to be even worse than any killer hillbilly in history, Tucker and Dale and Allison must fight to save their lives.

Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil is what it is. A clever twist on an age-old assumption – that all hillbillies are obviously inbred murdering psychopaths. So you don’t want to dig too deep with your analysis. But the reason this premise works is that it preys on our expectations. We expect for the Hillbillies to be the killers, so it's unexpected and funny when it's the other way around. The problem is, the writers don't continue to use this technique. The opening is pretty much the only time our expectations are played against. And that results in a dangerously lengthy mining of the same joke over and over again.

I think what saves this screenplay though, and keeps Tucker and Dale vs. Evil from becoming another half-ass comedy screenplay, is simply how lovable these two characters are. There aren’t any gimmicks here. We just like these guys cause they’re genuine nice cuddly hillbillies. By upping the douchebaggery of the college kids, our attachment to them becomes even stronger, as we want to see them defeat them.

I probably won’t remember Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil a few months from now, but I don’t think the writers expect you to. They just want you to enjoy 107 minutes of ridiculous gory fun, and in that sense, the script succeeds.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: I was just discussing this with some writers the other day. One of the biggest mistakes I see young comedy writers make, is they assume that you don’t need character development in a wacky comedy. Nothing could be further from the truth, and it’s your incorporation of character development that will set you apart when your script gets read. It doesn’t have to be Shawshank Redemption, but you should find something in your protagonist(s) that they’ve always had trouble overcoming, and explore that over the course of the screenplay. In Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, its Dale’s issues with self worth. He doesn’t believe in himself, which is manifested in his fear of talking to women. Had they not added this, there wouldn’t have been a lot to do once Allison woke up in the house, and the writers probably would've been forced to come up with a bunch of funny scenarios that had no connection to anything, and were therefore boring. But it’s this simple character exploration that gives a basic horror-comedy an advantage over all the other wacky comedies out there. I'm telling you, it seems like it shouldn't matter. But I promise you it does.