31 Days to Scare ~ The Tall Man

The Facts:

Synopsis: When her child goes missing, a mother looks to unravel the legend of the Tall Man, an entity who allegedly abducts children.

Stars: Jessica Biel, Jodelle Ferland, William B. Davis, Samantha Ferris, Stephen McHattie, Jakob Davies, Eve Harlow

Director: Pascal Laugier

Rated: R

Running Length: 106 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review:  The biggest pain in the butt with movies is when a studio pulls a bait and switch move on you.  You know the feeling, the ads for a film indicate that a movie is going to be thematically one way and it’s only when you’re comfortable with your popcorn and beverage of choice you find that you are seeing a movie totally different than what you were expecting.  Most of the time this causes me rage to no end…and justifiably so.  In the case of The Tall Man, a drama masquerading as a horror film, it’s that very misdirection that makes it worth recommending.

If you were to watch the trailer for The Tall Man or peek at its poster…you’d assume you were in for a horror thriller pitting star (and producer) Biel against a force of evil that steals children.  Even the first ten to fifteen minutes including the opening credits up the ominous factor as we are introduced to the residents of a small rural town where a whole bunch of children have disappeared.  With the legend of the mysterious Tall Man blamed for the children vanishing into thin-air, Biel plays widowed nurse living in a cozy but creepy old house in the woods with her son (Davies) and live-in nanny (Harlow).  It isn’t long before the Tall Man inevitably appears again and takes Davies away into the night.

It’s at this point that the movies makes the first of two sharp left turns as Biel slips into SuperMom action woman mode as she miraculously tracks down our title character with a determination only a movie screenplay would allow for.  With a nice display of style, director/screenwriter Laugier films the first part of the movie with a chilly lens that gives the appropriate amount of shivers up and down the spine.  By setting the film in a mining community far from the hustle and bustle of city living, the audience gets a real sense of seclusion from the outside world.  On the dark mountain roads and damp forests where much of the middle part of the film takes place, a nifty film emerges.

Where some viewers might run into a roadblock is when the movie doubles back on itself and turns another corner.  A filmmaker has to have a lot of confidence in his work and commitment to their storytelling to pull this off and I think Laugier did a good job with it.  Upon reflection, the movie sets itself up nicely for this twist and doesn’t arrive at it by cheating the audience.  Furthermore, once the movie changes its direction it sticks with it and follows through ably to the end…something many similarly twisty films can’t claim to do as well.

This final twist is what moves the film further away from its advertised roots.  You see, The Tall Man is really a movie that’s more about parental responsibility than it is about a psychopath on the loose.  Its core values may have a sour taste to those that are sick of being preached to but it’s still a worthy message to hear in this particular genre and medium.

Biel has never been the strongest actress but she navigates the complexities of her role with nice verve that heretofore hasn’t been present in her work.  After her sleepy turn in Total Recall, it was nice to see another performance of hers where she was present and accounted for.  Since much of the film hinges on our understanding of her actions, she colors her work with just the right amount of strength and vulnerability.  It’s a strong performance from the new Ms. Timberlake.

The rest of the cast is populated with Canadian actors that lend the film a vibe of realism.  I bought that these people were residents of this town…they wear their exhaustion and sorrow on their faces and show it in how they carry themselves.  Everyone seems to be on the same page and even if the actual performances are television movie-esque, there’s an overall feeling that the casting is spot-on.

How much you enjoy The Tall Man is entirely dependent on where you set your expectations going in.  It’s not a full-blown horror film…though some of the themes/actions presented in the movie can be frightening.  There’s a fair amount of decent spooky set-up that may satisfying your thrill meter…but stick with it when it changes course and I think you’ll be glad you did.