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The Tall Man (Pascal Laugier, 2012)

Director Pascal Laugier follows up Martyrs, one of the goriest and most through provoking horror films in recent memory with his English-language debut The Tall Man, an entirely more pedestrian effort that still offers him plenty of opportunities to show off his talents, both as a screenwriter and behind the camera. In The Tall Man, Jessica Biel plays Julia Denning, a nurse who seems to be one of the last vestiges of dignity in the Cold Rock, an economically depressed mining town in Washington state. The town, not just beset by financial problems, is also the target of a rash of child abductions, which the townsfolk attribute to a mythical boogeyman figure called the Tall Man. Perhaps predictably, after seeing Julia play happily with her son, The Tall Man sets us up for his kidnapping. What follows after this point, however, is considerably less predictable. The Tall Man is a smarter, more complicated movie than it first appears to be. Almost to the same degree as Laugierís Martyrs, it changes its game midway through and makes audiences radically shift sympathies as its plot develops

 

To write more about the plot of The Tall Man would be to risk spoiling its craftily constructed narrative. Still, many of its pleasures are tied up in the way that it unfolds. While this may not be a horror film so much as a thriller, it nevertheless has a fair number of jump scares scattered throughout its run time. The extended sequence in which Juliaís son is abducted is extremely atmospheric and suspenseful. This portion of the film perhaps best demonstrates Laugierís skill as a horror film director, but really he seems to be after a more psychological form of terror here. Contributing to that aim, Beil gives a strong performance as the beleaguered Julia. Unfortunately, because the film so completely shifts its aims midway through, one gets the impression that neither half registers as strongly as it might. Laugier wants to make his audience think about the welfare his of child victims in a way that would have been doubly effective had we been given more of a sense of the dire state of life in Cold Rock. A few more scenes of child abuse and neglect could have gone a long way toward balancing the filmís goals. Nonetheless, The Tall Man is a strong and original genre film, crafted with skill by a filmmaker who seems well on his way to becoming one of the best.

 

61 

Jeremy Heilman 

07.30.12