The South has a self confidence problem. I suspect the South suspects the North suspects the people of the South are… just not right. They’re right of course — the South I mean. The rest of the country doesn’t take the South seriously. Perhaps it’s the accent, the clothes or a perceived ignorance, the South is up for ridicule — ridicule that’s been ongoing since the War of Northern Aggression.
It’s only to the North’s detriment, surprise, and continued frustration to have low expectations of the South. The South has risen: Southerners have won three of the last five presidential elections, they have CNN, FedEx, Coca Cola, and let us never forget, Jeff Foxworthy. Let’s boil this down to a hypothetical competition. I love Anthony Bourdain and “No Reservations” (the best show on television), but if you put Paula Deen and Bourdain into a cage match, Deen would snap that scrawny Yank in half.
Which at last brings us to this week’s Gold Town Nickelodeon movie. “Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil” explores the gruesomely fatal results of assuming all Southerners are vicious hillbilly rednecks. Near the shore of a wooded West Virginian lake, a group of college kids encounter Tucker and Dale. Are Tucker and Dale just a couple of good ol’ boys who are decent, caring, and more or less just want to get along? Or are Tucker and Dale violent redneck bigots like the murderous hillbillies of B-movies? This meeting and friction between cultural archetypes is explored with great sophistication and nuance. Sure it is.
Tucker and Dale are indeed good ol’ boys. Dale in particular, due perhaps to the societal issues above, is haunted by low self confidence. He’s a mess under stress, including just talking to a pretty woman. How Dale faces his friends, his foes, his love, and his own misgivings under the duress of combating “Evil” provides the film’s central conflict. The film creatively depicts society’s negative Southern stereotypes through the eyes of the college kids and drives home the point this bigotry is probably based on our own petty fears and small hearts. A fear that we may be just like them. That we may be them.
The movie tries to be the backwood slasher equivalent of “Shaun of the Dead.” Take thematic elements from a tired genre, like attractive college students making bad choices in the forest … while nude, then both poke fun at the clichés and also deliver authentic thrills promised by the genre. If successful, it’s a masterpiece meta-film like “Shaun of the Dead”. “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” just about succeeds. This film is good. More importantly, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is fun. I laughed out loud. Tucker in particular has the best lines, ruefully commenting on the increasingly absurd and bloody situation.
But be warned friends, bloody is an understatement.
If you’re wondering why this film is playing at the august cinema showcase that is the Nickelodeon, it is because all the stuff above about the South and low societal expectations and assumptions holds. That’s fine. On whatever level you choose to watch Tucker Dale vs. Evil, for the social commentary, or for the impalements, most of you will enjoy it. This is B-grade looniness that displays much more intelligence than necessary and ultimately works because it has a heart. It’s not heavy, it’s not stupid. It’s a film primarily for film lovers, especially those who like their art house films a little more Craven.