The Tall Man
by Warren Curry
Although I’ll admit to having a certain affinity for extreme horror films, I’ll also gladly confess to having limits. And from everything I’d read and heard about Pascal Laugier’s “Martyrs,” I felt pretty confident it would be in the minority of movies that would cross my tolerance threshold. So I consciously decided to skip “Martyrs,” and thus “The Tall Man” is my introduction to the director’s work. As sick and twisted as “Martyrs” may be, it’s impossible for me to believe it wouldn’t have made a better first impression than the director’s latest.
The previous sentence is a diplomatic way of saying that “The Tall Man” will likely go down as my most disappointing viewing experience of 2012…and, truth be told, I only had moderate expectations for this film. Considering Jessica Biel is the star and an executive producer, I correctly assumed any gore in the film would be thoroughly toned down. And not only is it toned down, it’s practically non-existent, and that’s fine, however, Laugier doesn’t demonstrate any proficiency as a storyteller (the clunky pacing makes the movie feel at least a half hour too long). “The Tall Man” aims to be a mysterious, hard-edged thriller, but is virtually toothless.
The aforementioned Ms. Biel plays Julia Denning, the widow of a doctor who lives in a small town in Washington state. Julia now serves as the financially depressed community’s doctor, and in the film’s opening scene we watch her deliver a baby for a young woman. Julia lives in a large, isolated house with her nanny (Eve Harlow) and son (Jakob Davies), and in terms of her surroundings, is clearly a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.
The town has been rocked by the recent abductions of several children in the community. The disappearances are said to be the doings of a person (or a myth) dubbed the Tall Man. You needn’t be clairvoyant to determine that the Tall Man will come calling for Julia’s son, which he does soon enough, but with Julia in hot pursuit, the proceedings take an unexpected turn. This film serves as proof that unpredictability isn’t always a good thing.
As mentioned above, the film attempts to be an edgy thriller, yet what’s problematic is you can count the movies thrills on one hand. And with each passing frame in the movie’s latter half, I found myself exasperatedly hoping that each scene would be its last. The plot’s big twist might work — or at least work better — had it been suitably built up to, but Laugier’s script feels like little more than a series of run-on scenes.
I can’t say I’ve seen many of Jessica Biel’s films, and even after watching this movie I don’t have much of an opinion of the actress. She puts forth an honest effort, but her character is a fairly undeveloped gimmick. Perhaps the most flattering thing I can say is none of the film’s shortcomings are because of her performance. Had Laugier focused more on the characters who make up the small town Kat is seemingly trapped in, the movie could have boasted a genuinely sinister atmosphere. Instead, it practically has no mood to speak of, and the drab cinematography makes it just that much more listless.
It’s admirable that Laugier has branched out from the extreme horror subgenre, but this tepid, somewhat clumsy film makes me wonder if shocking audiences is his exclusive talent. “Martyrs” appears to have the ability to shake up most who encounter it, so even if its value is strictly of the novelty variety, one must admit it accomplishes what it sets out to do well.
On the other hand, with “The Tall Man,” Laugier comes across as someone with the seed of an interesting idea who has little idea how to make it bloom. Given everything I’d heard about “Martyrs,” I would have never guessed the director’s follow up could be so completely pedestrian.
The Tall Man (USA/Canada/France 2012)
Director: Pascal Laugier
Cast: Jessica Biel, Eve Harlow, Jakob Davies, Jodelle Ferland, William B. Davis
Rated R, 106 minutes
(Image Entertainment. Opens in limited release on August 31, 2012.)