SXSW 2012 Movie Review: 'The Tall Man'


Pascal Laugier's The Tall Man is either one certifiably insane horror story / missing kids thriller, or it's one of the clearest examples of why one should always approach a new movie with as few "expectations" as possible. For example:

A. Mr Laugier's previous film was Martyrs, a stunningly graphic and psychologically disturbing piece of horror fiction, and one that will be remembered for its overt nastiness. (The Tall Man is nothing like that.)

B. Lead actress Jessica Biel is best known for her stunning beauty and sinfully curvy bod, but here she's playing against type as a rather plain-Jane nurse in a small town. (Yes, the beautiful actress is clearly going for indie-flick anti-glamour here, but she also acquits herself exceedingly well in the acting department.)

C. One for the horror freaks: The Tall Man has absolutely no relation or connection to the legendary villain found in Don Coscarelli's Phantasm films. (Just in case you were wondering.)

We start out in a rather dry, almost TV-movie-ish sort of story about a small town that's been overwhelmed by a series of child kidnappings. The latest victim: local nurse Julia Denning, whose little boy has been abducted by a local legend known only as "the tall man." But just as Laugier's screenplay seems like it's a pretty rote and basic affair (about 20 minutes in), a few plot divergences pop up -- and then a few more -- and one or two others, and that's when The Tall Man goes from being a well-shot but basic abduction chiller to a frequently fascinating rumination on the responsibilities of parenthood, the innocence of youth, and the nature of "evil." So if the basic premise of The Tall Man (nurse's kid gets stolen) sounds pretty uninteresting, you can rest assured that Laugier has some pretty wild plot contortions in store.

That's my way of saying the best stuff found in The Tall Man is material that crosses over into "spoiler territory," so let's just forgo the plot synopsis, reiterate how impressive the performance by lead actress (and producer!) Jessica Biel actually is, and show some appreciation for a dark thriller that starts out as somewhat perfunctory, and then has the guts to twist the script in some odd, and potentially off-putting, directions. Also adding some weight and class to a potentially dry set-up are great Canadian performers like Stephen McHattie and Samantha Ferris, and (this being a horror film about kids) you can also expect little Jodelle Ferland to keep popping up and being creepy once in a while.

Although not nearly as shocking, daring, or intelligent as Martyrs, The Tall Man stands as a strong indication that Mr. Laugier is intent on tackling different sides of the horror genre. Fans of his earlier film may turn their nose up at this quiet, Canadian, and relatively blood-free offering from the Martyrs maniac, but The Tall Man is still a sly, strange and subtly engaging horror story that will no doubt leave several viewers angry, confused, or arguing on twitter.

Read FEARnet's partner reviews for 'The Tall Man'.