I knew very little going into The Tall Man, other than it did not have anything to do with Phantasm and that it starred Jessica Biel. To my surprise I discovered the film was written and directed by Pascal Laugier, writer/director of the 2008 film Martyrs. Anyone who’s seen Martyrs knows how much of a disturbing and unforgettable film it is, so I instantly had a strong curiosity about The Tall Man based on that fact.
The film takes place in a small rural town in Washington state, a place where children are known to go missing and never return. There is a fable of “The Tall Man” that is both feared and joked about amongst the townsfolk. We’re quickly introduced to Julia (Jessica Biel), a nurse who lives in the shadow of her late husband. We find that she has a young son of her own, David (Jakob Davies) and lives with a housekeeper/babysitter. All seems normal, well aside from the mysterious kidnappings, that is until David is taken from Julia’s home in the middle of the night by a dark hooded figure.
Julia refuses to give up in getting David back as well as hunting down the person who took him. Biel’s fierce performance offers some cringe-worthy scenes, most of which involving her enduring physical pain and intense determination. She stops at nothing while on the kidnapper’s trail, even if she has to hang off the back of a speeding truck. But once we think we know where the film is going, things start getting really strange and the questions start building up.
The townspeople start acting as if they all know something that we don’t. Is there a conspiracy amongst them? Is Julia really who we think she is? Is there really a Tall man? The questions drove me insane, in a good way. While Julia continues to look for David, the townspeople band together with an agenda of their own. At this point many might devise their explanations of the twist, but think again. As more information is revealed, ironically the more questions began rising again.
The movie could have easily fell into the trap of a predictable “twist” ending that’s been done and done again. This would have been the “safe” choice. But The Tall Man kept me guessing all the way through till the end. Whenever I thought I knew what was happening, I constantly found myself saying “something’s going on here” and I’d pose more questions. I guess the mainstream is afraid of movies like this, movies that have the potential of confusing the viewer. I personally love when a movie can keep you guessing and play out in an intelligent and thought-provoking manner rather than a quasi-clever twist that satisfies the audience.
On top of the brilliant story, the film is paced well and looks good on top of it. The bleak, run-down and raddled small town is nicely shown through the use of dull colors and tired pale-faced characters. What’s more impressive than the overall feel and cinematography of the film is Jessica Biel’s performance. I never had a strong opinion on her as an actress, but here she gives an incredible performance both physically and emotionally. We can’t tell whether she’s the good guy or the bad guy sometimes. There’s one particular scene where she has a dialog with a mother of the town; the scene alone should gain her an Oscar nod. I was really surprised and blown away by this film and am yet again perplexed as to why masterpieces like this go straight to video.