Sometimes it’s a hard life being a reviewer. Some films are impossibly tricky at times. Case in point – The Tall Man. A film whose whole purpose is to keep you guessing, to swipe the rug from under your feet whenever you feel safe watching it and to hit you with so many twists and turns that you never know if you are coming or going.
I feel like my teenage daughter at times, as a reviewer. She has this “brilliant” ability to tell everything about a whole film from start to finish, in one long breath. I say “brilliant”, what I mean is “exasperating”.
Remember the film Orphan? I was filled in on every detail of that entire film in one sentence. Every plot twist, how everyone died, in one long breath. I didn’t really need to see that film afterwards but when I did see it, it was marred by the fact that I knew everything that was coming next. I’d hate to do the same to you, avid reader, right here.
Because like all good twisty thrillers, The Tall Man starts with a very conventional first half. It wonderfully lulls you into forming your preconceptions way ahead of any actual events.
Wait a minute, Organ! This is the big screen version of that global internet meme Slenderman, right? It’s one of those thrillers cashing in on a current craze, yeah? They have changed Slenderman’s name to The Tall Man for legal reasons, to avoid the spindly boogeyman suing, yeah? But it’s essentially the same mythos, that of a rarely seen child snatcher that has supposedly been around longer than any normal human being could live? Rarely seen and barely whispered about? Watch out for your children! Slend-sorry- The Tall Man has been seen. No child is safe! No one knows where he comes from or why he takes the children.
All they know is he is very tall and all in black because people have said so. People who have seen him. In the woods. Him. It’s about him, right? Sucker.
This is from Pascal Laugier. The writer and director of Martyrs. A film our Andy once exclaimed to be “brutally unflinching, bold and brilliant”. How do you know who your daddy is? Because your mama told you so?
I’m being a little harsh on you there. For this movie weary, normally on the ball, reviewer fell into the exact same trap. Stupid, stupid…
As I said, the film begins in a very customary way. It’s a small Washington town Julia Dunning (Jessica Biel – Total Recall and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remakes) lives in. An ex mining town that’s seen better economies, where children go missing with startling regularity. She appears to be the local nurse, a widow bringing up her son, David, with the help of a good friend/nanny. I wonder who on Earth is going to get kidnapped…?
And you are right. BAOW! Before you know it, wee Davie is getting half-inched and Julia is chasing after the titular Man in her nightgown. Running through the forest at night, chasing the mysterious van that holds her son. The wide eyed, desperate mother chasing an unknown enemy. Before you know it, this could be The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake again. I mean, look. There’s Jessica Biel. She’s limping on the same leg. Screaming in the woods and eventually tied to a chair and left screaming for a very long time. You’ve seen it all before.
Only this time, it’s not targeted at your demographic, son. This is horror for your Mammies and Grannies, this film. They’ll be shouting at the telly and screaming about how all men are bastards and loving this shite, you think.
Twist number one and your whole world is turned upside down. It’s that good.
The twists thereafter kind of fizzle out and you realise that this is not going to be as “brutally unflinching” as the directors previous work. This is a different beast altogether. In fact, it can’t be called a beast. I mean, Martyrs WAS a beast. The Tall Man is more of neighbour’s dog that bites you if you try and get your ball back from their garden. In fact, no, it’s not as scary as that… Remember 80′s sitcom puppet legend ALF? Him with a cold sore and halitosis. It’s THAT kind of beast compared to Martyr‘s rabid, foaming Rottweiler…
And Jessica Biel is no dog either (I know. FANTASTIC segue, Organ). But wearing almost no make up, in her mumsy cardigan and the washed out colour pallet of the film strips those Hollywood looks and genuinely makes her look, well, less super humanly beautiful and much more believable as the MILF next door. She brings a very well balanced and executed performance here in very difficult circumstances at times. I can understand what brought her to the table and she’s perfectly cast for a number of reasons.
She plays straight into every convention that Laugier wishes for you to swallow up and is equally adept when the conventions break and after yesterday’s barely-worth-commenting-on appearance in Total Recall, she impressed me again. As the backbone of the piece, she’s exemplary and surrounded by the equally impressive supporting cast of Jodelle Ferland (Case 39, Silent Hill, The Cabin In The Woods), Stephen McHattie (Watchmen, Pontypool) and the guy that played Cancer Man in The X-Files (William B. Davies). If this film proves anything, it proves Laugier knows how to cast and direct an English speaking film.
It’s a bold effort with Laugier essentially orchestrating a reversal of standard thriller conventions. It’s a good idea but one that is never perfectly executed. The end of this film should make you feel triumphant, ecstatic, or at the very least, relieved. Personally, I never felt much at all, although I liked the story and the courage of the script, it still lacked a little emotional attachment.
Perhaps it’s a side effect of being constantly wrong footed throughout the whole film or, as I suggested earlier, I’m in the wrong demographic here and it’s not aimed at me. I think The Tall Man deserves to be watched but I fear a backlash from horror fans duped by the fake premise. The same kind of backlash M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village received. Let’s hope not. Let’s see if people can accept the unconventional for once. Sadly, I don’t know if many can.
Me? I’m just glad I got to see it before my daughter got the chance to tell me about it. She’s Slenderman daft at the minute.