Tall Man, The (2012)

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 08/02/12 15:26:57

"An ambitious idea that does not stand tall at all."
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

SCREENED AT THE 2012 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "The Tall Man" tries to do something worthy and interesting, at least at points, and those intentions certainly seem praiseworthy, but it just doesn't work. the whole thing simply isn't very well-constructed, to the extent that whether one admires its unconventional decisions or not, the net result is fairly negative.

Cold Rock, Washington, was never a well-to-do town, but it has spiraled into poverty since its mine closed, and in recent months it has become downright nightmarish. There's a plague of missing children, you see, around which an urban legend - the Tall Man of the title - has already sprung up. The latest child to be taken is David (Jakob Davies), the son of Julia Denning (Jessica Biel), the nurse who has run the town's free clinic since her husband's death. In this case, though, she's able to give chase to the abductors, and her pursuit may provide Lt. Dodd (Stephen McHattie) of the state police and County Sheriff Chestnutt (William B. Davis) the leads they need.

Much of this happens in an extended "36 hours earlier" flashback, and to writer/director Patrick Laugier's credit, getting caught back up isn't just a matter of playing an inevitable sequence out; by the time the movie has returned to its starting point, it has had a potentially interesting twist. However, it has also made a strong argument that it needs to commit to that twist fully or serve something else up in short order. Instead, it gets stuck in the mud, with the action slowed to a crawl and characters being vague and/or cryptic because Laugier is not yet ready for the (distasteful) finale.

Even putting the switch-up that the filmmakers never gets the most of aside, the story has its problems. The character played by Jodelle Ferland, Jenny, narrates despite being mute in-story, a stylistic flourish that ultimately seems pointless beyond making it hard for an intelligent person to ask questions (if Laugier is going for a "voiceless people" metaphor, he doesn't do much with it); her subplot also vanishes for a large portion of the film, making her too peripheral. And there are plenty of story points that really should be explained more than they are.

So, what does the movie have going for it? A desperate sense of place, for one thing; Cold Rock looks and feels like a genuine dying town, visually and from the way people carry themselves. Complementing that is a shot toward the the end which represents its opposite. And the central sequence where Julia chases down David and his abductor is actually kind of terrific; it looks difficult but within the capabilities of a fiercely determined mother.

Jessica Biel certainly looks like she could pull that sort of thing off (imagine a lot of other young actresses in that role and laugh), but she doesn't seem particularly well-suited for the rest of the movie; the latter half seems like it might be better if Biel and Eve Harlow (who plays David's Nanny) switched parts. Jodelle Ferland plays another off-center kid, and does all right, while Stephen McHattie and William B. Davis go through the motions in parts they should be able to make interesting. Samantha Ferris is pretty good as Jenny's mother, but sadly underused.

Laugier makes an effort to upend the audience's expectations with "The Tall Man", but just doing that isn't enough; it also needs to be done well. That, unfortunately, is something that the movie just can't deliver.

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