Release: Friday, August 31, 2012 (limited)
As per request, I got a hold of this little-known production from director Pascal Laugier. I’m so glad I did too, because I need to come to The Tall Man‘s rescue. It’s no sleeper hit, but it’s certainly not deserving of the critical backlash it received when it came out.
In a dark and lonely town buried somewhere in Washington state, children are being abducted — in broad daylight; in the cloak of night, never to be seen again. As if that’s not horrific enough, there’s not going to be much consolation for the families of the young victims, nor sufficient authority to help neutralize the threat. The local police moves with the speed of molasses, at best. After the town’s economy tanked following the closure of an important coal mine, most people seemed to have long abandoned hope in the growth and development of anything whatsoever. That also includes the pursuit of happiness.
The townspeople collectively understand these kidnappings to be the work of an unknown, rarely-seen ‘tall man’ in a dark hooded outfit. Every day they worry when their child will be the next to disappear off the streets. And wherever they go to afterwards is a thought best processed by the few policemen the town has.
When the camera finally pulls in close enough to start identifying individuals, we meet Jessica Biel‘s Julia Denning, the town’s nurse. In the opening scenes she is helping to deliver a child in a cruddy makeshift hospital ‘room,’ something that looks more like a classroom. Then she’s off her shift and heading over for a coffee at the shamble of a diner before heading home, where she goes about her business ignoring all the chatter about the kidnappings. That must get old, in a town of that size. Or maybe it gets old for reasons we’re not expecting.
That night she’s at home having just put her son David to bed and she and her sister are taking some shots before heading to bed themselves. Rather predictably, it’s where all the action begins to develop. Julia is awoken by some strange noises and comes downstairs to find her sister beaten up pretty badly and tied up in the kitchen, and her son missing. In a quick glimpse, Julia sees the man with her child and pursues the two of them on foot, eventually tracking down a large decrepit truck swerving on a lonely road. Her pursuit winds up in her being taken captive as well by this shadowy figure, but again she manages to throw a wrench into his escape plan, somehow upending the truck and getting all three pretty banged up in the process. Despite her injuries, though, Julia is still on the hunt after the man picks up David and heads to the forest. Good luck with that one, girl.
This chase scene turns out to be the catalyst for all other strange occurrences hence forth.
Now, I’m not one who’s particularly big on the horror genre. I am not quite sure if it’s simply the swiss-cheese plots they always entail — plots with absolutely ridiculous twists or loopholes — or if it’s the mood I’m almost always sure to find myself in afterwards (a crappy one). Horror films, to their credit, have a very limited space in which to operate. Becoming sentimental at any point usually is a wrong turn. Going heavy-handed on one’s own theologies (like the directors of Saw are famous for), leaves one in their seat, alienated by the vast sea of suffering and lack of humanity. This film is neither too sappy (but has its moments of caring), nor too gruesome (while still disturbing any parent, single or otherwise). The result is an interesting blend of drama and horror. It’s not full-on brutal in its treatment of human beings, but the suffering and the mistreatment are implied, which dresses Biel’s character’s conundrum in a veil of tragedy.
As her hunt for her child crumbles into her rescue by Lieutenant Dodd (played by a dismal-looking Stephen McHattie), we get a turn that I was really not expecting at all. With Julia in a safekeep (for now) at the diner, the rest of the diners, including several police, start talking frantically about whom had just been taken in. Suddenly, everyone’s on to her and Julia finds herself again on the loose. On the hunt. On her own.
Only now, the perspective has changed. As we go deeper and deeper into Julia’s desperate search, we come to understand that appearances are not all that they seem. After being tied up and broken down (again) by — TAA-DAAAHH!! — the tall man in his lair (which turns out to be some kind of useless, nondescript facility), Julia comes face to face with the ‘abductor,’ at long last. Now this could have turned out to be an insanely cliché turn, but given the suspense up until this point, what’s revealed is actually compelling.
Throughout the film, we’re given a messenger of sorts; a brooding, albeit brief, narration on the current state of the town, on the situation involving the abducted kids, and a reflection on the quality of life these children had under their biological mothers. This information comes via a very quiet girl, Jenny (Jodelle Ferland), who doesn’t utter a syllable. Her narration helps to edge the film along, though. In a town like this one, the quality of living was something near deplorable. And that was the whole point. There’s a great tragedy of life that stipulates every single one of us will be born into inequality, whether that be race, gender, physicality or otherwise. The Tall Man is a dramatic meditation on that thought, and I’ll bet you more than anything that this quality will be quickly overlooked due to its less-than-stellar acting. It shouldn’t be.
Recommendation: Though not always the most riveting of movies, The Tall Man has some very unexpected turns and boasts some great acting from Jessica Biel, whom I wouldn’t have necessarily associated with this genre beforehand. Well, I guess she was in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Blade: Trinity, but this film has a different feel altogether.
Running Time: 100 mins.
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