Film Review: The Tall Man (2012)

Film:  The Tall Man
Director:  Pascal Laugier
Starring:  Jessica Biel, Jodelle Ferland, Stephen McHattie, Jakob Davies, William B. Davies
Release Date:  08/31/12 (theatres) / 09/25/12 (DVD)
Studio:  Image Entertainment
Tagline:  Fear takes a new shape
Plot:  “When her child goes missing, a mother looks to unravel the legend of the Tall Man, an entity who allegedly abducts children.” (Source: IMDB)

Review Score:  3 / 5

Many, including this reviewer, were anxious to bear witness to director Pascal Laugier’s post-Martyrs film project.  With easily some of the most beautiful and disturbing images ever put to screen, Martyrs made Laugier’s name spread across the horror world.  A mild flirtation with – and subsequent exit from – the Hellraiser remake made it seem like an artist seeking familiar material territory.  But the surprising follow-up conclusion went down like a horse pill: an English-langauge mystery-thriller called The Tall Man starring…Jessica Biel?  Laugier pulled a David Fincher Alien 3; less (hopefully) means more. 

Some of the mixed reception speaks to the career choice he made.  (Note – his next film project is “a twisted sex picture” ala Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac – go figure.)  Those who loved Martyrs were expecting Martyrs 2.  The haters held no expectations, just hate.  I write this review now, months removed from the news and the films release, to better understand The Tall Man.  Let it stand on it’s own, and what remains is a decent, albeit uneven, twist-filled stake into the otherwise predictable heart of the thriller genre. 

Living in rural mining town U.S.A. where economic hardship has befallen it’s small population, local nurse Julia Denning (Biel) handles a few patients before coming home to her son and a babysitter.  After going to bed, Julia is awoken to loud noises and a radio blaring.  She runs downstairs to find her son being kidnapped by a dark figure.  Unsuccessfully chasing the man and his Jeepers Creepers-style van, Julia is found on the road by the local sheriff (X-Files alum William B. Davies).  He brings her to the town diner to safety…or to be captured?  Not all is what it seems in The Tall Man

Suffice it to say, divulging plot points would ruin the twist-fueled roller coaster ride.  But as they come one by one, it seems to make us look back and ponder rather than look ahead with wonder.  I’m not certain of Laugier’s intent for setting up the film like Jenga, and then immediately pulling pieces from the bottom.  A better entrance would invite a grander exit, no?

One positive for the film is acting.  Biel manages to give the performance of her career without exposed skin, despite her character’s identity crisis.  Julia has three key transformations.  First, we meet Julia the mother, the nurse, the widower.  Then, suddenly, she’s someone else.  Then by the end, she’s yet again someone different.  A pity that Biel didn’t save her best for the right project.

The film’s other strong point comes in the form of morals and ethics raised in the conclusion.  A little girl asks the audience: is the end result worth the going through?  Would you go back, despite the desire to be where you are now?  It’s perhaps methodical and yet intentional that Laugier poses this.  Is the film worth seeing, despite not being Martyrs?  If anything, the film kidnapped my ability to say no. 

Film Poster / Pictures:  (c) 2012 Rotten Tomatoes
Official Website:  http://www.watchimage.com/tall-man

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