The Tall Man (2012)
Director: Pascal Laugier
Writers: Pascal Laugier
Starring: Jessica Biel, Jodelle Ferland, and Stephen McHattie

The Plot: In the small northern town of Cold Rock, things have steadily been declining ever since the local mines shut down. With many citizens out of work and the local economy resting in stagnation, the locals have become understandably restless. It seems as if the entire town is just one big event away from total chaos. That big event comes in the form of “The Tall Man.” This Tall Man is a shrouded figure who is apparently responsible for the kidnapping of seventeen children. This person has been spotted near the scene of these crimes many times, but no one has managed to get a solid glimpse of this person. Julia Dunning (Jessica Biel) is a waitress working in Cold Rock while trying to support her son. She has shared a home with her best friend every since her husband passed away, but while everything seems to be going well from the outside looking in, chaos is waiting just around the corner. When The Tall Man targets Julia’s family, chaos and dark secrets are soon to be revealed to the world.

The Review
If you never thought that a Jessica Biel movie would be featured on the pages of Varied Celluloid, then you are not alone. Not that I have anything against the actress, but as far as I am aware she has never starred in a roman porno title or any backyard German gore films. Her filmography doesn’t usually run in line with the films that are normally reviewed here. Yet, here we are, and Jessica Biel has now starred in a film from the director of Martyrs. It’s no secret that I was one of the few people on the planet who didn’t fall head-over-heels with that previously-mentioned movie, but I won’t deny that there were parts of Martyrs that I really enjoyed. So, after my good friend The Oily Maniac, from The Oily Maniac’s Closet, informed me of the movie, I knew that it was the perfect time to see what else Laugier might have up his sleeve. Although I was hooked already, if you also throw in the fact that this film could have possibly taken some influence from one of my new obsessions, “Slender Man,” and I found myself actually excited to give the film a look. So, does Laugier finally impress me all the way, or is it just another slick piece of gory horror cinema? You’ll have to read on, but the results are ultimately a bit conflicted.

Although this will turn out as a bit of a tangent, I figure that I might as well detour a bit into the Slender Man mythos. From everything that I have seen, Slender Man is one of the first true pieces of folklore to become somewhat prominent solely due to the internet. Starting off on the web forums, Slender Man has become so famous that folks have actually ignored the fact that this story is 100% fabricated and will occasionally claim to have seen this apparition. The story of The Slender Man is a very familiar bit of folklore. He is a faceless man who primarily stalks children and has several notable powers that prevent his detection. He’s often called the thin man, and even, yes, the tall man. Yet, our film today seems to only take a small bit of inspiration from this story. There is no ghostly man without a face wearing a suit or extending a series of tentacles from his back, but instead Laugier taunts his audience with the prospect of something ghostly and instead presents his killer as more of a man than a phantasm. Yet, there are certainly similarities, but not enough to connect any direct references. Laugier’s film is less fantastical and doesn’t explore folklore in any discernible way. Instead, it proposes moral questions that will either be read as heartless and ridiculous or heartless and improbable.

With The Tall Man, Laugier is back to many of the tricks that he showcased in Martyrs. The director shows an affinity for cult mentalities. He also seems to have an infatuation with religious zealotry that hides just beneath the surface. Even in the early moments of the film, where Laugier toys with his audience by leading them down one path instead of another, he presents hidden cultures that are dormant within everyday life. Another one of Laugier’s returning motifs is his affection for bait-and-switch narrative twists. As you may have already assumed at this point, there is a very definite twist within this story. Similar to the protagonist switch that happens halfway through Martyrs, The Tall Man does a complete 180 somewhere after the forty minute mark. I won’t go into any of the logistics, nor will I provide any clues, but it isn’t a spoiler to say that “something” happens. Try as you might guess, if a viewer goes into the movie, I would find it difficult to imagine someone guessing what might happen. Still, that is part of the game, isn’t it? And Laugier shows growth since Martyrs, because at no point do the twists feel cheap. With Martyrs, some audience members walked away a bit dissatisfied with the blunt revelations, but at the very least The Tall Man provides some twists that are a bit more organic.

When dealing with a movie that is so new and featuring such stark ideas towards its climax, it is hard to avoid talking about the end of the film. If there is anything that is definitely positive about The Tall Man, it is the fact that its content easily calls for open discussion. I personally find the ending to be silly in some regards, but at the same time I enjoy the discussions that the movie might start. Ultimately, the film opens a pandora’s box of taboo ideas when dealing with parenting and politics, but the central thesis of the movie comes across as an angry “better than you” ideology. Readers who have not seen the film are likely very confused at this point, but believe me that this is a story that goes into some very “different” areas. However, I think that there is one thing that likely helped gear me towards a more negative demeanor: the movie builds and builds upon a precipice that says there will be a dark and nefarious secret revealed, but this turns out not to be the case. I only choose to reveal this because I believe that viewers would do better to go into this movie with the understanding that it turns out as a dark thriller with few supernatural elements. Is this a great flaw in the movie? Not at all, merely something personal that can cloud an audience member’s judgement.

The Conclusion
The Tall Man has received some unfavorable reviews from my own inner circle of friends. Some have loved it, but there have been many who absolutely loathed it. I sit somewhere in between. The Tall Man shows a great deal of promise, but it never steps up to the plate and becomes something great. I give it a three out of five. It is good, but is certainly not “must see” material.

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