Jessica Biel - Julia Denning
Jodelle Ferland - Jenny
Stephen McHattie - Lieutenant Dodd
William B. Davis - Sheriff Chestnut
Samantha Ferris - Tracy
Colleen Wheeler - Mrs. Johnson
Eve Harlow - Christine
Genre - Horror/Crime/Drama
Running Time - 106 Minutes
In the poor blue-collar town of Cold Rock, Washington, folks are frightened by a legend known as The Tall Man - a dark figure who kidnaps the town's children. Widow/nurse Julia Denning (Jessica Biel) is startled to find that her son David (Jakob Davies) has been abducted by someone who resembles The Tall Man. While pursuing him, Julia is injured but found by Lieutenant Dodd (Stephen McHattie) - the man in charge of The Tall Man case. Julia is taken to her neighborhood diner, but suddenly becomes aware that her neighbors are plotting something and may know more about the kidnappings that they have been letting on. As the game of Chess begins, we learn that the truth is much different than one would expect.
I don't usually go into watching a film, thinking it's one thing, but leaving it realizing that it wasn't at all what you expected it to be. THE TALL MAN, not related to the villain of the PHANTASM franchise, is one of the few films that totally screwed with my perception. Even though THE TALL MAN was released in 2012, I barely knew anything about it besides the fact that Jessica Biel starred in it and that Pascal Laugier [director of 2008's MARTYRS - one of the hardest films I ever had to watch] wrote and directed this film. So here I was expecting a supernatural horror film about some mysterious dark figure who kidnaps children, only to realize that it was really a crime drama that wanted me to think! This film bamboozled me! That's not to say that it was a bad thing though.
THE TALL MAN is one of those films that's really ambitious with its storytelling, only for it to fall every now and then before getting back up. Yes, THE TALL MAN is the Chumbawumba of thriller movies. I admire the storytelling done in this film. I can't really go in depth about it without spoiling it for those who are interested in a film like this, but you got to respect a movie that twists and turns so much, that what you end up with is NOTHING like what you started with.
While I found the story interesting and intriguing enough to see where it would all end up, I can't say that the narrative was in anyway perfect. A lot of the twists end up leaving massive plot holes that make you wonder how characters and their situations went from A to F in the span of a minute. Characters that you start relating to end up being totally different than what you perceive them to be, which can really screw with your head. It's an interesting mystery, even if the execution is flawed though. And while you understand what's going on by the film's end, you just wonder how quickly it got there and how no one saw it coming in such a small community. I thought the film's theme of "neglect" was very strong and it made me think what I would do in a similar situation. Not many modern films are that thought-provoking, making me question what's right or wrong and/or whether we should play God with other people's lives. The story's a ride you want to sit through to see how things will change in 100 minutes. I have to respect ambition, even if it doesn't totally work.
I thought Laugier's direction and the cinematography by Kamal Derkaoui were masterfully done though. THE TALL MAN looks absolutely beautiful, using a Canadian location to set a bleak, dim mood and atmosphere that makes you wonder how Cold Rock became so economically challenged and why anyone would still want to live there. While the editing is a bit weird at the beginning of the first act, I felt that it was probably intentional to jar the audience. The rest of the visuals were handled well. Sure, THE TALL MAN could have used more suspense and tension during its second half. And yes, the film could have been quicker paced, as it does feel a bit slow at times. But Laugier wanted us to get comfortable in Cold Rock by delivering a somber and mellow tone before twisting our brains in a new direction in the second half. The visuals aren't as powerful as they were in MARTYRS, but they weren't supposed to be. I thought for this kind of film, Laugier's visuals were pretty spot on.
I also thought the acting was really great here as well. Jessica Biel [who was also executive producer] shines in the best performance I have ever seen her give as Julia. She's hot and she has a great body. But she's never really wowed me with her acting chops. THE TALL MAN changed that for me, as she proved how talented she was by making me believe she was this character. She handled all the character changes like a pro, making me wish she had done more films like this before and probably after. Give Biel the right material and she'll knock it out of the park. The supporting characters were good too. I thought Jodelle Ferland [the little girl from SILENT HILL and CASE 39] was very good in her grounded role. Samantha Ferris was strong as the visceral Tracy. Even though she wasn't in the film much, she brought layers to a small role. It was cool seeing William B. Davis [X-Files' Cigarette Smoking Man] and the great Stephen McHattie deliver as well. The acting was probably the strongest aspect of THE TALL MAN.
THE FINAL HOWL
THE TALL MAN is a film you end up going into one way, exiting the total opposite way wondering how you got it so wrong. While not perfect due to twists that seem to bog down the story more than they do to explain it, Pascal Laugier's script is at least ambitious and intriguing enough to see where it all ends up. Laugier's direction is also extremely solid, giving the film a bleak, cold atmosphere. And the acting, especially by Jessica Biel, was pretty damn good, carrying much of the film for me. If you're expecting another MARTYRS from Laugier, you'll be severely disappointed. But if you don't mind a slightly flawed rollercoaster ride that makes you use your brain to figure things out and think about the situation presented, than this film is for you. THE TALL MAN may come up a bit short for many, but I dug it for the most part.