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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

THE TALL MAN -- DVD review by porfle

Whatever you think writer-director Pascal Laugier's THE TALL MAN (2012) is going to be about when you start to watch it, chances are you're going to be surprised.  At first, I thought it was going to be a horror flick.  Then I thought it was going to be a Dean Koontz-style "plucky woman singlehandedly confronts unimaginable evil" type of deal.  And finally, I thought it was going to turn into something that resembled a collaboration between SyFy and Lifetime.  And even after all that--I was surprised.

Jessica Biel emotes her buns off as nurse Julia Denning, who continues to run a small clinic in rural Washington after the death of her doctor husband.  Due to a mine closure, the town she lives in is dying and the people all seem to suffer from a sort of shared sickness of the soul, exacerbated by the fact that an enigmatic "Tall Man" is said to be kidnapping their children from their beds at will and carrying them off into the woods one at a time, never to be seen again.

When we see Julia happily playing with her little boy David after work we know that the same fate will befall them, and indeed it does.  But rather than submit passively, Julia runs down the Tall Man's escaping van and hangs on Terminator-style until she's somehow able to cause a crash.  After that she tracks the fiend through the woods despite her injuries and locates his secret hideaway, where...

Well, I can't really say any more, but this is the point where THE TALL MAN starts to get really surprising and go off in all directions, with not just one or two twists but a twist a minute, leaving us disoriented and wondering what the hell's going on.  I like that in a movie, as long as it's able to keep its own twists and turns sorted out and there's some definite point to it all. 

Here, there seems to be some kind of deep-seated evil coursing through the populace of Julia's hometown, her actions uncovering a potential conspiracy that she could never have suspected and we can only guess at.  You'll really wonder where it's all headed when Julia herself is accused of being behind all the kidnappings and the townsfolk start coming after her like rabid dogs. 

The mystery deepens despite the efforts of state police Lieutenant Dodd (a typically intense  Stephen McHattie) and local lawman Sheriff Chestnut ("The X-Files"' own Smoking Man, William B. Davis), who, for all we know, are in on the whole thing themselves.  And what does a disturbed mute girl named Jenny (talented young actress Jodelle Ferland) know about the Tall Man that would make her actually want to meet him?

THE TALL MAN is helped considerably by its setting, the dark, foreboding forests of the American northwest (actually Canada) where you never know what might be lurking.  From the start, it goes out of it way to be visually interesting--camerawork and editing have a pleasing flow to them--and establishes a melancholy ambiance that's maintained throughout. 

The film becomes a thriller with the first abduction, a pulse-pounding headlong rush of a sequence, but soon settles into Twilight Zone territory when everything we think we know suddenly goes askew.  Strangely enough, in spite of my initial expectations, it never really becomes a horror movie.

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 2.40:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 surround sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Bonus features consist of a deleted scene, a trailer, and a gallery of beautifully rendered production paintings.

As the scintillating mystery that sustains THE TALL MAN for most of its running time winds down, the film seems to get a little talky and, surprisingly, starts to wind up a little too pat.  But just as the extended ending threatens to get a little sappy, the last shot manages to strike just the right chord to give the film a disquieting, yet satisfying, fadeout.  I'm not sure how you'll react, but one thing's for sure--it's one odd, unexpected movie.

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