Film Review: The Tall Man
One problem I have with modern filmmaking is that there are no more “personal” directors. I don’t necessarily mean directors who don’t make personal films; what I mean is, in the eighties you’d often get a film with the director’s name attached. This was especially true in the horror genre. If you look at a director like John Carpenter, all his film’s had his name attached in the title, and I love that, because you generally expected the same quality all the way through the director’s filmography. Nowadays, however, that just isn’t the case. Directors seem to be interchangeable, with no personality or trademarks that make you instantly know you’re going to be seeing a good film. However, if there is one director who I believe should restart this trend, it is the French auteur Pascal Laugier. After making 2008’s Martyrs, one of the greatest 21st century horror films, he has returned with his first American production, The Tall Man, released here in the UK in 2013, and it is another winner.
The plot is difficult to sum up, because numerous people have complained that the general synopsis of the film is misleading, and I agree; The Tall Man isn’t as basic a film as the synopsis’ make out. The general gist is that Julia (a fantastic Jessica Biel) is a nurse in a small, backwoods town called Cold Rock, that has no prospects and is full of the washed up and the poor. In the day, she bonds with some of the locals, including the mute Jenny (Jodelle Ferland), who has to live with a negligent mother and abusive stepfather, and in the evening, comes home to her son David and his nanny. One evening, she wakes up and finds her son being kidnapped by a long figure in a hood that looks like the ‘Tall Man’, a local urban legend that is blamed for snatching away children. From there, the film spirals into numerous twists and turns that you’re unlikely to see coming.
It seems if there’s one directorial trademark of Laugier films, it’s the idea that they start in one way, and completely transform by the end. Going in expecting a fairly routine horror film, I was amazed at how utterly daring The Tall Man is. After only half an hour, the film has already revealed one huge, ‘where-did-that-come-from?’ twist, and doesn’t let up all the way through. Biel is required to go through many different and complex stages of her character, but she really pulls them off, even when she is required to not be so likeable. She’s ably supported by a solid, no name cast.
I imagine most horror fans will not enjoy this film, for the simple reason that this is barely a horror film. There are very few scares, no gore, and it’s only the atmosphere of dread that fits the template. One of the problems The Tall Man has is that it’s a tough film to define. Sometimes it feels like a social drama, but then it’s too far-fetched and different to feel like realism, and other times it’s a thriller, but has long periods of talking and drama without many thrills. I believe The Tall Man is going to struggle to find an audience, and that’s a shame, because I found it to be enjoyable, exciting, and one of the few films of recent times to have a genuinely surprising, interesting twist. I can’t wait to see what Laugier does next.
By Harry Ford