The Tall Man (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

The Tall Man (2012)

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The Tall Man is the second-cousin to the DVD waste-bin of the sky.  It’s presented by the advertising material preceding it as the kind of low-grade dreck that you’d expect of Asylum instead of a promising director.  If you but into that horrible tactic of persuasion I don’t blame you.  The presence of a generic scary man in a coat behind the all too wide-eyed heroine is yet another cliché that doesn’t seem to die.

Yet, here stands a film that pushed my cynicism to the bloody limit and shattered it.  There was no way a movie about an internet meme monster could possibly be any good.  More so, it was film starring one of the most poisonous acting presences of Jessica Biel, who has yet to star in a single film I’ve liked out of the near Baker’s Dozen times two that she’s been featured in.  The deck was stacked, yet a lot of my notes reflect an internal struggle that was loudly brewing.

As I watched, the notes continued.  Risk after risk was taken without a single consideration to how the audience might follow any of the threads The Tall Man leaves behind.  Somehow, this film manages to be a singlehanded ode to almost every kind of horror film popular in the last ten years while still clinging to the central tenant that horror films still cling to some very misogynistic trends that are yet to die anytime soon.  Here sits a film that is willing to acknowledge the sad truth of that in the most blatant B-grade way possible.

Unfortunate birth through a distorted lens, just one of many visually intriguing moments throughout the film.

I wasn’t prepared for how much I liked this film, so let me state that a certain array of misdirection was called for when figuring out just where this film was going to go.  During a foreshadow-heavy cold open a Lieutenant (Stephen McHattie) ominously informs the battered Doctor Dunning (Biel) that despite her trauma, none of the people she said were alive could be found.  Jump backward 36 hours, and I see she doesn’t have the easiest life in the quiet town of Cold Rock.   Not five minutes into the film she’s delivering the baby of a barely-caring prostitute viewed through the lens of windows.

Already, director Pascal Laugier is trying to fill these films with more dignity and space than the camera usually demands with these films.  The voyeuristic nature of horror films is fairly well documented at this point, but a lot of Laugier’s scenes take place off-screen or just out of view.  This moment of possible trauma, with a doctor trying to save the life of someone who can’t care birthed by someone who can barely bother the same, is clouded by those windows.  The doctor is distorted, but barely, as she gets to save another life.

But this is playing with a trick of perception.  For the first twenty minutes I seem to be viewing from her point of view, but who assumes the role afterward?  The camera lingers a minute too long during a diner meal where the participants are trying to be people they aren’t.  Their purpose is revealed, far quicker than I was prepared for and the trauma of missing children is seen through their eyes.  Then, twenty minutes later a detective arrives, calms down the townsfolk, and some of the obvious psychosis is glimpsed while a bit hangs off to the side.  The film goes on as fantasy replaces dream, and everyone gets their chance to delude the viewing audience a little further.

Some of the moments are a bit too on the nose and elicited a groan or two.

At first it feels like the genre collisions are a little too abrupt.   Suddenly I’m in a found-footage horror film when the movie just left a clue that I was watching a survivalist film.  Then I’m back in a kooky townsfolk bit of horror a la Texas Chainsaw.  Then the gore becomes a little too real like in the “torture porn” films of the new millennium.  The genres continue to switch, but eventually the method becomes clear.

This is one of the rare films where the presentation lines up so perfectly with the plot detailing one gets rid of the surprise of the other.  Even with the genres I’ve outlined so far many more come into play, with many other perspectives, that you will likely not expect.  Each one outlines a different condition of the way women are treated in horror films.  These range from the roles they are forced into, the way their sexuality is portrayed, their roles as heroes, villains, and so on.  I loved Silent House earlier this year for this same purpose, but in The Tall Man it’s in almost every conceivable genre instead of an exercise in one.

Laugier is game.  Who is starring in the film matters less than what genre takes center-stage and he knocks each transition out so smoothly those lingering questions of tone fade away.  This is an audacious piece of work, willing to take enormous risks with the audience’s faith to deliver a quality product.

I was very surprised, and I hope you will be too.

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The Tall Man (2012)

Written and directed by Pascal Laugier.
Starring Jessica Biel and Stephen McHattie.

Posted by Andrew

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  1. This movie mirrors actual events that occurred in Spain under Franco. Instead of just a plot by 1 man and his wife, church & state in Spain conspired to take babies from broken family situations and place them with families deemed appropriate by the facist state. This also happened in the US during the 50’s to a certain extent when the Feds took children from Mormon polygamists to place them in more “mainstream” familial situations.

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