Back in 2008 French writer/director Pascal Laugier unleashed Martyrs on unsuspecting audiences, casually marketing the film as a horror when in actual fact it was the closest thing I’d seen to a genuine journey into hell. One of those “let’s sit on our own for a while in a nice place and NEVER watch this again” kind of films. So Laugier’s newest venture (French/Canadian Co-produced) The Tall Man has been something of a pursuit of mine for a while.
In the town of Cold Rock, a dying red-neck tip of ever there was, something is stealing children without a trace. As Julia Denning (Jessica Biel) struggles to fit in as the towns leading medical expert and community pillar, her life is thrown into further turmoil when The Tall Man comes to visit.
The trailer for the film, the general look and feel, and Jessica Biel taking the lead may get your warning bells going like mad, they certainly did for me. In comparison to Martyrs, it just seems a bit too glitzy and that’s down to an entire shift in aesthetic and budget from Martyrs. The story at first glance seems tired and done: who wants another abduction flick? Can we really sit through more monsters in the woods or stalker/slashers with a penchant for kiddies? Thankfully Laugier is totally on the ball, wrapping a thriller in the signs and signifiers of a shameless horror flick. You’ll spend a lot of the film wondering just what the fuck is going on thanks to that conspiracy of genres, but that’s fine, you should expect that from the guy who made Martyrs. No matter how clever it is though, The Tall Man relies a little too much on the forgetfulness of kids which, by the end, will have you questioning some of the basic principles of the film if you’re not totally distracted by the poignancy of its final note.
Biel is absolutely fantastic proving once and for all she’s a top leading lady and is just as comfortable neck deep in muck, cut and bruised, and losing her shit as she is being composed and commanding. It’s her performance that drives the film, being more of a character piece than you might initially suspect. Jodelle Ferland (Silent Hill) is fast becoming the poster teen for horror, here appearing as a mute daughter of an abusive household. William B. Davis (The Smoking Man from X-Files) pops up as bumbling Sheriff Chestnut, Stephen McHattie (Pontypool) appears as straight-laced FBI agent, and Samantha Ferris shines as Ferland’s struggling mother.
The Tall Man is very different from Martyrs, but that’s good because churning out the same harrowing experience would be detrimental to Laugier’s reputation. Instead he goes in the opposite direction being perhaps a little more obvious with his questioning but still inspiring thought nonetheless.
An intriguing genre hybrid with a startlingly good performance from Biel, The Tall Man is brave and powerful but perhaps a little too blatant in its last act. Nonetheless it’s a watchable, intense, and thought-provoking thriller from an emerging horror talent.
Dir. Pascal Laugier
Stars. Jessica Biel, Jodelle Ferland, William B. Davis, Stephen McHattie, Samantha Ferris, Teach Grant