Review: The Tall Man
PLOT: The town of Cold Rock, USA is losing its children: at least once every two months, a child is abducted, events blamed on a shadowy figure called “The Tall Man.” Who is this person, and what is he doing with his victims?
REVIEW: It's hard not to be reminded of Pascal Laugier's last film, the brutal horror number MARTYRS, while watching his latest, THE TALL MAN. Not that they're similar in style; the former is a torture show, one of the most infamous offerings of the genre in many years, while the latter is timid in comparison, a dramatic mystery with but a few ounces of blood on display. Yet, in both films, Laugier serves up one type of film in the first half, only to pull the rug out and reveal that we're in quite a different movie altogether. I didn't like it in MARTYRS (which is wildly overrated in my personal opinion) and I don't like it here, but I will give Laugier points for pure showmanship. He most certainly isn't content to tell a story in a conventional way.
We're introduced to the town of Cold Rock, a Northwestern mining town whose residents live in poverty, depression and fear. The fear is born out of an epidemic of kidnappings, apparently perpetrated by a hooded menace called The Tall Man, the sort of mythical character dreamed up by scared people in lieu of any rational explanation. Julia Denning (Jessica Biel) works at Cold Rock's free clinic, and while she herself is dubious about the existence of any such phantom, she's sympathetic to the people whose lives are destroyed by the abductions. Julia possesses a strong maternal instinct, having a son (Jakob Davies) of her own, as well as a troubled local teenager from a bad family (Jodelle Ferland) that she bestows affection to. Her life as a single mother is simple, plain and ordinary, and she's relatively happy.
That happiness is shattered when The Tall Man comes calling; he visits Julia's house and takes her son – and it's at this point where I can't continue to describe the plot, because the film soon twists in a drastically different direction. Said direction will squash the lingering hopes of horror fans looking for a horror movie, because it turns out that's not what this is at all.
Laugier's film is brave, for it attempts to tell an important and earnest moral drama yet wraps it in the cloak of a dark-and-stormy-night chiller. The director enjoys toying with our expectations, layering twist after twist in the second half of THE TALL MAN and consistently challenging our idea of what's going on. It can legitimately be said, after it's over, that you couldn't see what was coming at any given moment.
And while I have no doubt that sounds appealing, it's sad to report that all of Laugier's contortions are in service of a story we stop caring about once it revs up the twist-machine. The structure of the movie is completely askew; the big twist is only really satisfying if it comes at the end of a story, not the middle, and when there are more big twists to follow, the movie's momentum is shattered and everything feels like anti-climax. I counted at least three different times when I thought for sure the picture was over, and each time it just kept on going. It's never a good thing when a movie “just keeps going,” and it doesn't matter if there are further convolutions in the plot. Once you've checked out, you've checked out, and I checked out of THE TALL MAN a handful of times.
On the positive, Jessica Biel is quite impressive in a dramatic role, one that requires us to constantly redefine what we think of her character. Her movie star glamor dressed down, but not overtly so, she's believably conflicted and broken by the emotionally exasperating circumstances that keep hurling themselves upon her. The actress also serves as an executive producer on the film, which on the surface is very odd – why would Jessica Biel produce a low-brow thriller like this? - but becomes clearer once the film's secrets are unveiled. There is a message that she and her writer/director want to impart, one about parental responsibility and child protection, but it's muted and abused by the film's muddy storytelling and botched handling of its multiple revelations. I can't exactly fault THE TALL MAN for trying something different, but I can't deny that, about halfway through, I wanted to be abducted and taken to a more competent film.
|Extra Tidbit:||THE TALL MAN opens theatrically on AUGUST 31st; it is currently available On Demand.|