There is a dark side to Judge Daryl Loomis, the side that always faces the sun.
Fear takes a new shape.
The Tall Man is an interesting movie, but one that likely won't sit well with many of the people who sit down to watch it, because it never delivers on the horror trappings that it clearly promises. It's not the job of the film, though, to satisfy what the packaging makes the film appear to be. Instead, this is a neatly packaged, two part thriller that makes a lot of sense, and that both eluded and exceeded any expectations I may have had.
Facts of the Case
Ever since the mine closed, the tiny town of Cold Rock, Washington, has become destitute, depressed, and dilapidated. Its residents still love their home, though, but things have become worse as, over the last few years, young children have been disappearing without a trace. The superstitious parents attribute the crimes to an unseen ghoul they call the Tall Man, but widowed nurse Julia Denning (Jessica Biel, The Illusionist) is skeptical. She can't deny that something is very wrong, though, when she walks into her house to see her own young son being snatched from her house. She makes chase, and what she finds is definitely not what she expected to see.
The horror promise of The Tall Man isn't a ruse; the first half of the movie is effectively tense and grim, with an unseen villain and a heroine who appears poised to enter a horrific world to save her son. After her son is taken and Julia runs after them, we're treated to a big set piece involving a bread truck, a mad dog, and our titular monster, only to finally have that turned on its head. Unlike many thrillers, where the twist comes at the very end, leaving the filmmakers with convenient little time to explain themselves, the twist comes here, right in the middle of the movie, leaving nearly an hour for the fallout to occur.
In that way, The Tall Man really only pretends to be a horror film, and the reality is sadder and more disturbing than a simple monster. Really, the film is more concerned with the depressed town than delivering scares, and it's much more effective a film because of it. This might have something to do with my personal attachment to it, though. I grew up in and around the depressed industrial towns of the Pacific Northwest as the lumber industry died, which for all of my own environmental concerns, left shuttered buildings and shattered lives in its wake. When the twist arrives, it becomes clear that it's this kind of horror that director Pascal Laugier (Martyrs) is working with in The Tall Man.
This is where many will rebel, because it turns into a distinctly political thriller at this point. It deserves a chance, though, because there's a whole lot of good in the film. Jessica Biel deserves a lot of credit for her excellent and deglamorized performances in the lead. At first, she seems like a typical horror character, with an unassuming job and an unassuming life, thrust into action by fear and circumstance. Her character goes far deeper than that and, though it's impossible to say more about that without spoilers, she is emotionally very effective and engrossing in the role. Samantha Ferris (Shattered) also deserves a lot of credit as Tracy, the mother of the film's narrator and the voice of the spirit of the town. She's excellent at these marginalized characters and plays the role with strength and emotion. All the performances, really, are above average, and not quite what I was expecting from any of them.
Most of the credit goes to Laugier, though, for staying consistent with his vision, even if the story doesn't follow any conventional rules. He shoots the landscapes lovingly, even as they're the backdrop for some awful things going on in the foreground. Despite the hard break in the center, the film moves well and the screenplay makes perfect sense, though it might not seem like it on the surface. In almost all cases, he treats the characters, good and bad, with the same level of respect and never really exploits their failings, where it might be easy to do so. Really, The Thin Man is a solid film all around. It's not horror, but it's not easily pegged as anything else, either. It might not be terribly easy to digest, but nobody said every good movie was going to be easy.
The Tall Man comes to Blu-ray from Image Entertainment. It's not a disc that will test your system and it's light on extras, but it's a technically sound release. The 2.40:1/1080p transfer is quite good. Much of the film takes place outside, and the clarity of the forests and mountains is very strong. Detail is solid and, though the color scheme is limited to rotting browns and greens, they are represented well, and the black levels in the near-constant night scenes are as deep as you could want. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track does not carry the desired punch for a movie like this, though. It isn't a bad mix; it just isn't as dynamic or deep as it should be. There isn't a lot of definition among the channels and the low end has little going for it, but the dialog, music, and sound effects are all clearly represented. For extras, we have a single deleted scene, which clearly could not have been included in the final film, because it would have drastically undermined the whole point, a series of stills of visual conceptions, and a trailer.
Horror fans have plenty of gory, scary choices that they can make, so any claim that The Tall Man is a bait-and-switch falls on deaf ears for me. Personally, as one of those horror fans, I'm happy to be tantalized, only actually to be given something more substantial to chew. It's not a perfect film, but I respect Pascal Laugier for seeing his vision through with consistency and I admire Jessica Biel for agreeing to such an unglamorous and conflicted role. Though I wish there were more interesting extras on the disc, I still recommend the Blu-ray.
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