SEPTEMBER 1, 2012
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)
I could have seen The Tall Man on one of the various OnDemand services, but to this day I feel guilty about watching Pascal Laugier's previous film Martyrs in my apartment, where the film's nearly nonstop barrage of pained screams probably terrified my wall-mates (I can't call them neighbors, because that's a more familiar term - I don't talk to anyone I live next to). Plus I always like seeing things in theaters when I can, so I waited a couple of weeks so I could see it in a theater with a big crowd - the best way to watch a movie.
So it's kind of ironic that a. this movie was not particularly loud and b. there was only one other person in the theater, because my seat was super squeaky (as were the ones near it), so every time I shifted slightly (which I do often, as I'm a restless bastard) it would make a loud, obnoxious squeak, forcing me to concentrate on trying to remain motionless. Thus, yet again I was more concerned for disrupting those around me than just enjoying the flick. Someday, Mr. Laugier, someday...
Anyway, it's a pretty solid thriller, and like Martyrs it has a polarizing twist that gets at something more human and thought-provoking than the earlier part of the movie would lead you to believe. But the great thing is, it doesn't feel like he's covering the same ground or even using the same tricks like M. Night Shyamalan. While Martyrs had a late-game "man behind the curtain" moment, Tall Man's twists come along at a steady clip, constantly having you rethink what you've seen. It's almost like an old serial, where every twenty minutes you're left with a new piece of the puzzle and most likely have an idea where you think it'll go from there, only for it to switch again at the end of the next "reel" (remember those?). It's pretty impressive.
Naturally, this can cause some whiplash, particularly if you want the whole movie to play out as depicted in the trailer, with Jessica Biel's son being taken by the titular villain and her attempts to get him back. That stuff only covers the movie's first half, and in theory that is the way I wish all trailers were. Whether I like the movie or not, I am sick of seeing its final shot in the trailers (The Grey is the most egregious recent example), and wish more films had trailers that were only comprised of first half footage. But as I said, this can cause problems with some viewers who feel cheated or just want generic scares, because they're too dim to give a rat's ass about things like "story" or "theme". If you're like that, you should probably avoid this one.
If not, then enjoy this intriguing take on what exactly happens to kidnapped children who disappear without leaving a shred of evidence behind as to who had taken them or where they can be. The film's small town, northwestern locale is perfectly suited for the situation, as they wouldn't have surveillance cameras on street corners, people with cell phones in their hands at all times, etc. You have to buy that so many children could disappear from one area without it getting more attention from law enforcement and media, but if you can, I think you'll find it's otherwise well thought out, and again, fairly thought-provoking by the end.
Good performances also help, with Biel in particular delivering one of her best performances. She's not a terrible actress, but she's never given very interesting characters to play, often just "the girlfriend" (Next) or the obvious heroine who goes through the motions (Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake). Not the case here, as her character has many layers, and she handles it wonderfully. Jodelle Ferland, who seemingly has a lock on every "young, disturbed girl" role in genre films these days, is also quite good, playing a nearly mute girl who may know more about the Tall Man than she should. And since this is a Canadian genre film, Stephen McHattie and Samantha Ferris are also around (I was amazed that Julian Richings wasn't one of the creepy town locals), as is Smoking Man himself, William B. Davis, as the town's ineffective sheriff.
Now, you might have noticed that this is a vague review, and that is intentional. I don't wish to go into detail about the film's second half, and I am truly disappointed at those who felt the need to point out something about its nature to me when I said it was my choice of horror movie for the day. Obviously, Laugier goes to great lengths to keep the film's second half a surprise, and I wish to respect that. If you're disappointed with how it turns out, that's fine, but addressing that switch in detail is counterproductive and unnecessary. It'd be like if (IF!) From Dusk Till Dawn was advertised as a straight up hostage thriller, without vampires being any part of its marketing or plot synopsis, and then telling someone not to see it because it's a vampire movie. Follow the characters and the story, and judge the movie on that - not what it lacks.
What say you?