The Tall Man

The Tall Man benefits from a noble message on social and civic altercations but loses its impact due to the lack of a meatier plot build-up.

Sometimes it is necessary for trailers to tell a different story. This is necessary to keep viewers guessing while simultaneously preventing plot twists from unraveling too early. The Tall Man does this and more, but from start to finish feels like a bizarre and bloated episode of The X-Files.

Written and directed by Pascal Laugier, the person who brought us the brutal,  phenomenal and mind-boggling Martyrs, the story here had huge potential. It begins like a horror thriller, just like the trailer seems to suggest. Children from a rural town in Washington are disappearing; never to be found again. Formerly abuzz as a mining colony, Cold Rock is now a poverty stricken town with fewer jobs, increasingly dysfunctional families and minds idle enough to invent an entity no one has seen but frequently refer to as “The Tall Man”—a silhouetted figure responsible for allegedly kidnapping and murdering children. As the town nurse, Jessica Biel plays Julia Denning, a single mother whose son becomes the latest victim of this Tall Man. What follows is a frantic search to find her son even as the plot thickens in mystery before the truth behind the children’s disappearance is finally revealed.

I found the revelation, (albeit intended as the film’s double edged twist), has a rather lukewarm feel to it as I was trying to figure out the who, what and when of the mystery. This is not to say that the story is confusing, but it is clear there are various other ploys at play that are meant to keep viewers guessing. Adversely, some viewers may not even know when the film approaches its pinnacle because the transition from horror-thriller to drama-mystery is almost seamless, and not in a good way. There are a few sub-plots that help you dwell into the mystery, but others are just fundamentally weak and sometimes even contradicting. Instead, these feel like fillers before ‘the main event’. Before you know it, the focus changes and you find yourself grappling with the motive behind the kidnapping — the all profound ‘why’, which as it turns out, is as necessary as the pain and torture depicted in Martyrs. Although noble and original, Laugier’s message on social and civic altercations loses its impact due to the lack of a meatier plot buildup, in addition to a restricted viewer advisory that is too harsh for content barely requiring a PG rating. Towards the end this message becomes almost poetic in lamenting the woes of motherhood and parenting, especially when it becomes a cross to bear. But by then it may be too late to fathom the sheer scale of what Laugier is trying to impart.

As a mother of sorts, Biel plays her role with conviction and with pangs of sorrow. Hers is perhaps the only character that personifies loss and belonging in the same frame, an irony that manifests itself in taut reference to the painful lesson between being a good or bad parent. Aside from Biel, Jodelle Ferland has a vital role but only in the final act. As Jenny, a selective mute, Ferland doesn’t utter a word throughout but serves only to narrate the final moments of the film by pulling away the shroud, just in case you still find yourself in the dark. Even so, Laugier brings the curtains down with ambiguity by letting us decide the fate of some his characters. While this technique works in part, most viewers have little to mull over. Even past its thin plausibility, The Tall Man is largely shadowed by its older sibling and by comparison will sadly remain so.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.