Flip-flopping traditional genre dynamics in a manner more cute than uproarious, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil charts the Three’s Company-style shenanigans that ensue when two West Virginia bumpkins cross paths with a group of camping college kids. Led by preppie Chad (Jesse Moss), a douche in a powder-blue polo shirt with an upturned collar, and driven by prejudices against beer-guzzling country folk, this uptown crew immediately begins making assumptions about Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine), two backwoods pals whose grungy exterior implies danger. Given that the duo’s dilapidated new “vacation home” seems to have previously been occupied by the Gein family, those first impressions stick, and soon mount once beautiful Ally (30 Rock‘s Katrina Bowden) falls in a lake and hits her head, Tucker and Dale rescue her, and their efforts are mistaken by the rest of the twentysomething gang as abduction and attempted murder. Miscommunication and misunderstandings of a slapsticky sort soon follow, with Tucker and Dale soon implicated as killers once the kids begin dying in a variety of accidental ways, as when Tucker hits a hornet’s nest and, running away from the scene while flailing his chainsaw like Leatherface, compels one frightened, fleeing boy to unintentionally impale himself on a tree branch.
Director Eli Craig’s story never transcends its one-note construction, creating similar scenarios in which the good-natured Tucker and Dale stumble into circumstances that make them look like psychos, all while homophobic, elitist Chad revels in his newfound opportunity to indulge his sadistic urges. This subversion of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Wrong Turn tropes is reasonably clever and delivered with requisite tongue in cheek, and a late revelation about Chad’s relationship to a decades-old massacre further pricks horror cinema’s fondness for “return of the repressed” thematic concerns. Despite warm-hearted, wrong-man turns from its two leads, however, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is rarely laugh-out-loud funny, with its humor mostly derived from its teens-are-maniacs, hillbillies-are-heroic upside-down plotting. That strategy doesn’t quite hold for the film’s skimpy 89 minutes, and a running thread regarding Dale’s increasingly successful attempts to woo Ally eventually detract from the titular protagonists’ own comfortably cantankerous rapport. Still, as a horror fan-targeted lark, Craig’s goofy ode to slasher clichés is—from its over-the-top gore to its wink-wink jokiness at its own expense—an amiable enough jugular-slashing jaunt.