THE TALL MAN Review

It is hard to come by a legitimate horror film these days. Maybe it has always been this way to the more seasoned moviegoers who know all the tricks of the trade when it comes to trying to make the audience jump out of their seat, but over the last five or so years it has become painfully obvious to me. It is really, a lesson we've all learned after seeing enough scary movies but it is films like The Tall Man that make me think we are heading in a far worse direction than the one we came from. I realize that the parents of my parents likely thought Jason Vorhees and Freddy Krueger were silly psychos in dumb costumes but they now, as icons of the genre, seem to have been so thrilling in that heyday. My generation has their own stamp on the genre with the Paranormal Activity films which took the reigns from the Saw movies and Jigsaw as our kind of Freddy or Jason figure but it is poor attempts like the title villain in this film that make me wonder where the genre is heading as a whole. This presents the main problem with the film: it shouldn't have been a "scary movie" in the first place. Their is a very interesting case study on not only society but of the perceptions individuals take on society and if they in fact have the power of persuasion the danger they can be when relaying these ideals to others, to followers. It is a complex idea that involves the class system and the evaluation of that system, how it came to be, why such lines exist and what has to be done to eliminate the weak.

Julia (Jessica Biel) checks on Tracy (Samantha Ferris) after
her daughter unexpectedly gives birth.
For the first half hour or so we believe the film is in fact something of a typical fright fest that sets us up in a small isolated town and gives us the premise that children keep disappearing or are mysteriously abducted by what the townspeople call the tall man. No one is able to explain it and the birth of any child brings fear to the parents who feel the need to free them from any kind danger. Jessica Biel who is clearly the only major star in the film as you could probably tell from the poster plays the town nurse Julia Denning who is doubtful of the whisperings around town about the creeper. She has a son of her known and a husband that we get a few slight references that allow us to assume he passed on many years before. Their is plenty of likely assumptions about who they think the culprit is besides the unlikely one that he is actually a ghost. Is it a child molester? Are the children being killed? Their are plenty of layers to the complications that pile on in the set up that make the bear fact that parents are losing their children all the more real and unbearable, but the film quickly sinks from taking this frightening situation and turning it into a plot device to move forward the harsh turn the film takes about an hour or so in. It may be considered a bit of a spoiler, so here is fair warning but the film takes a certain rule and bends it for what has always been an interesting ides to me There is a rule in constructing a story that the viewer must always be able to trust the narrator. That if they cannot trust the narrator the reader (or viewer in this case) will in the end feel like they were being lied to through the process of taking in the story and therefore resent piece of work entirely. It is an interesting tool that could certainly be used to varying degrees of success. Really given you trust the narrator they could tell you their side of any story and convince you to trust them or that they are in the right. The Tall Man tries to justify its actions by going a similar path, but ends up loosing its footing due to its identity crisis.

Julia is devastated when it seems the rumored Tall Man
has come for her own son.
Director Pascal Laugier is a French screenwriter and filmmaker who is known for his horror films and in his U.S. debut likely wanted people to think he continued his tradition of making fantasy/horror films like his controversial 2008 movie Martyrs. Instead Laugier has done is tell a story that is addressed in a subtle way while drenching it in horror movie cliches. Biel is appealing in her performance and surprisingly shows more range here than anything she's done in the past few years that have had her playing rather typical tough girl roles. The role requires her to do more than simply be a stock character in a stock movie. Biel's Julia has to both appeal to the naive in us and then at the drop of a hat become a completely different person. The fun of having such a character is to try and work out the reasoning we can no longer rely on someone we at first thought might be the only trustworthy character in the whole town. Laugier plays it close to the chest and in some ways I want to feel that he really pulled it off, but while I was initially intrigued by the unusual twist it soon became shrouded in over explanation that rather than clearing up the point the director is trying to make boggs it down with confusion and incoherence. In many ways I wanted to like the film if not for the attempt to defy genre boundaries, but for the fact that it was a horror film with bigger aspirations than to simply tell a creepy story, have a lame bad guy, and not open with a scene of a girl watching a scary movie on a Friday night. The Tall Man is a dreary movie, with a nice tone and some pretty good pacing up through to the latter part of the film. It is the fact that the movie is unable to layer these on in a convincing way when we are getting to the meat of it that makes this a bigger disappointment than it is a success.

Jenny (Jodelle Ferland) protects Julia's son David
(Jakob Davies) from the real threat.
When I first heard of the film it was through the initial trailer that appeared online. I couldn't even make it through the preview because, in all honesty, it looked like a standard non-imaginative scary movie that looked to cash in on typical scares and a hot chick in the lead role. I was surprised when it started to get somewhat favorable reviews and the fact that it was premiering with video on demand really gave me no excuse not to go ahead and at least give it a shot. I have been meaning to check out some of Laugier's work anyway so it was a chance to see what the fuss was all about when it came to him as well. I don't really understand it, the film skewed closer to another female-driven dud earlier this year called Gone or even last weekend's dud The Apparition than it did a small indie that dug into the psyche of a lead character who decided to take such drastic measures in the world so as to create change that even the lowest on the society poll would feel the effects. It is an admirable thing to attempt and it is likely that the director will eventually reach his goal of being able to fully break through the persona he has already created for himself. He clearly has an interesting way of approaching things and creating metaphors for social commentary, now if he can just find a middle ground in terms of genre or at least a less conflicting way of telling those stories he will do fine. I didn't expect to like The Tall Man that much and maybe in the end, that's why I didn't. It surprised me though, taking what looked like nothing more than a typical throw away February release and infusing it with hints of something more. Something I am eager to see be developed.