Rating: R (violence, language)
Length: 106 minutes
Release Date: September 5, 2012
Directed by: Pascal Laugier
Genre: Crime / Drama / Mystery
Stars: 3 out of 5
Many modern dramas and mystery films are starting to fall back on horror tropes and gain more of a slasher feel than suspense. “The Tall Man” navigates these hurdles beautifully, creating a wild ride that only shows the occasional glitch as it manages many different twists and turns.
The movie follows the exploits of Julia Denning (Jessica Biel) as she attempts to discover the mystery of disappearing children in the town of Cold Rock. The Tall Man, a figure of urban legend, is said to be abducting the children for some unknown purpose. As the plot unfolds, Julia finds herself trapped between the legend and a very real danger posed by many members of the community.
The acting in this film provides one of those unexpected glitches. Biel is very convincing as Julia, but it seems that many of the people she encounters are either cardboard cutouts or simply there as placeholders and road markers. Few of them show any personality at all. The contrast often makes Biel seem like the only actor in a movie full of mannequins. Stephen McHattie as Lieutenant Dodd manages to pull off some personality at various points throughout the film. Jenny (Jodelle Ferland) steals the scene on more than one occasion, but ultimately moviegoers may feel cheated by the lack of meaningful responses from characters other than Julia.
The filmography is topnotch. Close camera angles keep you on your toes throughout the film in a manner reminiscent of the best suspense movies. The director clearly knows how to manage darkness and light to create a tense situation. Many of the camera angles and transitions seem to have been borrowed from the horror genre, but the feel works thanks to the obvious lack of slasher elements in the movie. The threat is always there, but it is used to increase suspense instead of evoking revulsion and horror.
The script itself is the real star of this film. The plot twists and turns throughout the film, leaving viewers always guessing and second-guessing the intentions of every character in the movie. Even the main character receives this treatment at times. Viewers are likely to begin to suspect that Julia herself is keeping dark secrets that threaten both her search and any hope of finding the lost children.
The pacing of the film is very fluid, keeping moviegoers focused on every nuance as they enjoy the rollercoaster ride of the plot. Pacing only slows at a few key points of the film, mainly scenes involving the lackluster performances of the townsfolk or apparent red herrings. This seems to be intentional, however. It provides a moment for viewers to decompress and think about what has happened thus far in the movie as they progress through the film’s multiple acts. Pacing picks up and drops off in fairly regular fashion, with intense chase scenes or other suspenseful elements broken up by those townsfolk interactions and red herrings.
Viewers familiar with the “Saw” franchise of films or the director’s previous film, “Martyrs,” are likely to enjoy the pacing and constant shifts in the plotline. This film avoids the gore and direct approach of those movies, however, opting instead to ratchet up the tension whenever possible and then pull back until the movie’s climax. The finale of the film is a satisfying conclusion to the whole deal that is still likely to leave moviegoers guessing as to what really happened at many of the plot’s key points and talking about the film for some time to come.
Despite often tedious performances from the supporting cast, the main actors bring the movie to life, and the directorial power behind it lifts the movie out of mediocrity. Many elements common to crime, mystery or suspense series are used in a completely different fashion than expected. The director never fails to showcase his talent by pulling ideas from other genres. This results in a very fun romp through what might otherwise feel like a rehash of territory covered by Stephen King and similar horror or mystery writers. This is a likely by-product of the director and writer being the same person, allowing him to fulfill his vision of the project without having to work with an intermediary.
“The Tall Man” provides all the elements of a great date movie or even a night out with friends. The mystery and suspense elements are a perfect match for the occasional moment drawn from the horror genre, resulting in a very good film.