When I received a DVD in the post from the rental company I subscribe to I was a little disappointed as I didn’t remember adding it to my watch list, however I was pleasantly surprised by The Tall Man resulting in the question: why didn’t it get a cinema release? So for the first time in two and half years I give you an entry into my “DVD Gems”.
A small mining town in Washington State is slowly dying since the mine closed. Amidst the desolation the towns children are slowly disappearing one by one, the police and the community have no idea what is happening beyond the presence as a mythical “tall Man”. Everyone appears to have given up and the local police are inept, only Seattle detective, Lieutenant Dodd (Stephen McHattie) and young nurse (Jessica Biel) have any life or vigour remaining. Beyond that it wouldn’t be fair to spoil any of the plot.
There was a time during The Tall Man that I thought of Martyrs (2008). Having sat down to watch the movie with no prior knowledge or expectations I didn’t realise at the time that the two movies share a writer and director in the shape of the darling of the New French Extreme, Pascal Laugier. With this in mind it is even more surprising that the movie didn’t find its way into UK cinema’s. Not as good as Martyrs but more accessible and less extreme it could have easily found an audience amongst horror fans, however it isn’t actually a horror movie although it shares many themes and tropes of the genre. It is a well paced and well constructed atmospheric thriller far from a horror shocker. For fans of the genre, it is a perfect case of “bait and switch” but I won’t say how, that would ruin it. There are twists and turns in the plot, the most daring of them isn’t necessarily daring in its reveal as much as how early in the movie it happens. To its credit, it keeps you hooked beyond this point and keeps you asking questions about what is going on. It has its problems, chief amongst them is the stereotypical and clichéd small town setting with its stereotypical clichéd characters. This however is integral to the plot and as distracting as it can not be avoided.
Director Pascal Laugier and director of photography Kamal Derkaoui have created a stunning looking movie. The photography if very dark, even in the daytime, this helps evoke a feeling of desperation and despair in the dying town. The sets perfectly give the impression of a setting a generation shy of becoming a ghost town. This fits well both with the thriller aspects of the movie as well as the underlying social commentary. The cast is perfect with Jessica Biel giving a suitably intense and low key performance. Stephen McHattie plays a suitably grizzled detective. Jodelle Ferland (who looks more like horror/thriller queen Danielle Harris every time I see her) acts as narrator but also plays a part that strings the elements of the story together, she does a great job.
The film is at its best and its greatest achievement is when it expects audiences to think about what they have seen and how they feel about them. It leaves its conclusion open. I don’t mean unfinished or even ambiguous, just open. This isn’t a David Lynch movie where we question what we have seen and what it means, It gives us a series of events that by the end, the facts are clear and without question, however the morality and meaning are left for the viewer to decide. The overriding theme and the question it poses were asked a few years ago in a very different movie (I won’t name it as it will give too much away), while the other movie in question was better, it was also more closed in its opinion. As with the other movie most people will draw one of two conclusions, however it is possible to like or dislike the film on its own merits regardless of which camp you are into, the movie isn’t preaching one idea or the other, it is asking a question. This along with the plot twists may be what is putting some people off. If you feel cheated by plot twists of like being told what to think avoid this film.
If you reed the numerous (and somewhat mixed) reviews on Rotten Tomatoes or IMDB you would be forgiven for thinking the movie is incoherent thanks to the plot twists, I am happy to report they are wrong! There are twists and turns in the plot, while they may or may not be surprising, but they are never incoherent or hard to follow. Far from a classic but certainly a memorable entry into the genre and far better than many that get a cinema/theatrical release.