REVIEW: THE TALL MAN (2012)

Theatrical Release Date: August 31, 2012
Distribution Company: Image Entertainment
Written and Directed by: Pascal Laugier
Starring: Jessica Biel, Jodelle Ferland, Stephen McHattie, William B. Davis, and Samantha Ferris Running Time: 106 minutes
Rating: R

“800,000 Children are reported missing each year in the USA. Most are found within a few days. 1000 Children disappear without leaving a trace…”

I wasn’t, at first, certain a review for Pascal Laugier’s THE TALL MAN was appropriate for this site. The marketing campaign and all the news leading up to this film led me (and everyone else) to believe the film was going to be an incredibly dark horror film, something incredibly twisted from the director of MARTYRS. What Laugier created, however, turned out to be an incredibly dark,  grim, shadowy mystery thriller.
In an isolated, slowly dying former mining town of Cold Rock, nestled in a valley between the haunting, misty mountains somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, children are vanishing at an alarming rate without a trace – abducted  by a mysterious entity known locally, whispered amongst the townsfolk as “The Tall Man.” Abducting children in the blink of an eye, what few eye-witnesses there are describe a tall, man-like creature clothed in a black, tattered, hooded cloak, and as the legend spreads the story even makes state television news.
With the kidnappings becoming an epidemic and making national news, a federal investigator Lt. Dodd (Stephen McHattie) is called in to assist the local sheriff, Sheriff Chestnut (William B. Davis) in his efforts to track down this mysterious legend, be it man or beast. Despite their best efforts, however, they are unable to stop the abductions as more and more children continue to disappear leaving the town in a state of panic and fear as one of their children may be next.

Julia Denning (Jessica Biel) runs the area’s free medical clinic, a task left to her after her husband (the town’s only doctor) passed away. Multiple town residents looked to her husband as the one man who kept the town together after the mine shut down and Julia, “only a nurse,” tries somewhat unsuccessfully to fill his shoes as most of the townsfolk tend to inexplicably treat her like dirt. Living outside of town in a rather large home in the woods (perhaps another reason the townsfolk don’t like her, given that the majority of people in town live in trailers and shanties) with her sister or nanny (it isn’t made quite clear in the film) Christine, it turns out that even she isn’t immune to the tall man as her son David (Jakob Davies), is violently abducted from their home one night.
Julia, awoken by a radio blasting a holy roller station finds Christine, beaten and gagged, in the corner. Panicking, she runs upstairs to find David gone, running back downstairs only to catch a glimpse of The Tall Man as he runs with almost supernatural speed to an old truck reminiscent of the truck from JEEPERS CREEPERS. Unwilling to give up without a fight, she’s able to latch onto the truck and a fight ensues between her and The Tall Man (while a German Shepard gnaws on her leg by the way) that results into the truck crashing and The Tall Man escaping into the woods with David. This is all witnessed by Jenny (Jodelle Ferland), a mute trailer park pre-teen Julia has been trying to help throughout the film who plays a role later on but…spoilers…
I can’t go into much more detail here without giving away spoilers but suffice it to say that what we’ve been led to believe about everything: the townsfolk, The Tall Man, and even Julia is not at all what it seems, with Lugier playing upon our presumptions of just what exactly is going on. Here, a well constructed, dark thriller becomes a mystery as the viewer is left wondering just what exactly is going on.
While I was initially annoyed at the marketing bait ‘n switch, expecting a warped supernatural horror film from one of the new wave of french horror directors. After my first viewing, I was going to give this one a pass as far as giving it a review, given that it doesn’t exactly pertain to what this site is all about, but then I watched it again…and again, and came to realize that this film was not only beautifully shot (kudos to cinematographer Kamal Derkaoui), but came to the realization that Pascal Laugier is an artist when it comes to manipulating expectations and emotions. With MARTYRS, he filled us with a sense of dread and carried that emotion throughout the film, not only creating what many have termed a “gore film,” but a work of art that transcended such simplistic notions and made us question ourselves as well.

Now he’s done it again with THE TALL MAN. Laugier is a master at writing and direction when it comes to bringing the best out of his actors. He pushed Morjana Alaoui to the absolute limit of emotional expression in MARTYRS. And he’s done it again in THE TALL MAN. Jessica Biel is incredible in this film. Known throughout the industry as “just another pretty face,” she broke away from that notion giving a believable, heart-wrenching, award winning performance. Though horror fans and gore hounds may find themselves let down by THE TALL MAN, once again, as with MARTYRS, Laugier truly reached deep into the audience with this film,  having us question our perceptions, ourselves, and, end the end, what is wrong, and what is right…and can the two be the synonymous…

The rating system is going to be a bit tricky here, because as a horror film, THE TALL MAN, well, simply isn’t, not really. But as a mystery/thriller, as well as an incredible film overall, THE TALL MAN performs incredibly well. So in the history of BACKWOODS HORROR REVIEWS, a film gets two ratings.

AS A HORROR FILM: ONE SKULL OUT OF FIVE

AS A DARK MYSTERY/THRILLER: THREE AND A HALF SKULLS OUT OF FIVE