Dear Tucker and Dale vs. Evil,
Much like your two titular protagonists, the bulk of your knuckle-headed charm comes from your deceptive simplicity. It is easy, for instance, to say what you are – a movie about two hillbillies mistaken for psychotic murders yb a group of college students – and it is also easy to say what you are ostensibly about – not judging a book by its cover – but it is a much more difficult feat to say why you are so raucously, hilariously successful.
After all, while your plot is novel and atypical, it isn’t exactly revolutionary or deeply complicated. Tucker and Dale are a pair of overall-wearing hillybillies; two life-long friends who have simple pleasures and big dreams. Tucker – the alpha of the two thanks to his assumed way with words – has just sunk all of his money into a “vacation home” in the woods by a lake. He hopes to spend a long vacation fixing up the place and fishing with his best friend, Dale. Dale, meanwhile, is having a crisis of self-esteem after he falteringly attempted to talk to a pretty college girl, only to have her run away in terror. Filled with knowledge thanks to a near perfect memory but cursed to be too shy and uneloquent to ever really show it, Dale becomes the sympathetic core of your narrative, with Tucker as his equally amiable foil.
While these two loveable dolts are fauning over their decrepit forest home (Dale unironically describes the shambles of a cabin it as “a mansion”) the group of college friends from earlier is likewise striking camp and scaring one another with stories of murderous hillbillies out for young blood. Already put on edge by Dale’s hilariously inept attempt at conversation, it doesn’t take more than one story for the kids to become convinced that everyone who lives in the woods is out to get them. Luckily, this fear is readily forgotten just in time to go skinny dipping. But when Dale and Tucker, out for a late night fishing trip, end up saving a girl who almost drowns, a series of unfortunate misconceptions causes the college kids to believe their friend has been captured and must be rescued.
What follows from this point is a hilarious and ever-mounting set of miscommunications and misinterpritations based off of horror movie tropes and ill-fitting stereotypes. That we, as a horror movie savvy audience, can see and understand all that is happening while the characters must founder in their own ill-defined understanding is one of the best aspects of your production. We can see from miles away the setups and payoffs that are in store, but the precise attention to comedic detail and perfectly calibrated tone make each one wildly more successful than one would have believed possible. Even better, though, is the manner in which our hillbilly protagonists act not just as stand-ins that allow jokes to happen, but as delightful underdogs worth rooting for.
As a simple story of mistaken identity, you would be funny. As it stands, though, you have a heart and soul that allows a deeper emotional component to seep into your goings ons. Tucker and Dale are sweet, kind, and good-willed to the point of near sainthood. They drew in my sympathies so readily and so deeply that I found myself realizing that even without the meta-horror spoof angle, I would have still gladly watched them in a film together. Their friendship is at first reminiscent of those old Saturday morning cartoons that relied on one “smart” character interacting with another “dull” charatcer, but slowly turns into a real and oddly compelling relationship. I grew attached to these characters, found myself invested in their outcome, and heartened by their comraderie.
Such is the basis of all good comedy. It is easier to laugh at the comedic misunderstandings and trials of someone we empathize with, because the humor is mixed with an actual level of affection and understanding. Earlier this year I derided The Hangover Part II for missing this very important point. They took characters we had at one point empathized with and turned them into ugly, hateful stick-figures. Their comedic setups seemed more like punishment heartily deserved than humorous obstacles to be overcome.
You, however, understand and execute comedy that is both deeply personal and wonderfully broad. You use Tucker and Dale as a means of ushering us gently in to a brutal and horrifyingly hilarious story. Without them, you would have been good. With them, however, you are great.
Thanks for the bloody good time,
Brian J. Roan