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The Tall Man | Review

Head In the Clouds: Laugier’s English Speaking Horror Feature Poorly Manufactured

The Tall Man Pascal LaugierAfter his infamously violent 2008 horror flick Martyrs landed him on the top of the New Wave French Horror directors, Pascal Laugier finally returns with an English language follow-up, which he also wrote, The Tall Man. At first seemingly dependent on urban legend boogeyman mythos, Laugier manages to posture child abduction horror through a labyrinth of twists that concludes with a daringly misanthropic moral. It’s too bad that his intriguing idea is locked in a movie so half-baked and dismally executed.

The small town of Cold Rock, Washington is in trouble. Not only has the current economic situation caused the shutdown of the lucrative mining company, but now, all the children are strangely disappearing, abducted by a dark, night time menace coined ‘the tall man’ by the town’s fearful denizens. Recently widowed Julia Denning (Jessica Biel) is the town nurse, valiantly keeping up the free clinic, though it was her deceased husband that held not only this establishment together, but the fiber of the town itself due to is immense moral integrity, or so we are repeatedly told. Between delivering babies for low-income and unprepared teen girls and trying to comfort mothers of the recently abducted, Nurse Julia is an angel of Cold Rock. Until one dark and stormy night, the Tall Man visits the Denning home and takes her David away. And then we’re off on a goose chase where Nurse Julia finds out exactly what members of the small town are her friends and possible enemies, discovering a friend in Jenny (Jodelle Ferland) a mute teenage girl she has helped in the past. As Lieutenant Dodd (Stephen McHattie) valiantly tries to unveil the secret of the Tall Man and retrieve the children, several daring twists are revealed that prove that nothing may be what it seems in the town of Cold Rock (and maybe the United States, as well).

While budget issues certainly plagued Laugier’s earlier title (in that filmmaking had to be halted during production and hence the marked tonal differences), The Tall Man somehow proves worse for wear and with different issues entirely. While it sports an effectively creepy location in the foggy Washington foliage, littered with the white trash dwellers of a dead mining town, there’s just something unbelievable about someone looking like Jessica Biel, no matter how washed out and pale-lipped they make her, staying on in such a dreadful backwater. Sure, we get a few twists that establish all kinds of motives for all kinds of characters here, but the morose sloppiness of the film that leads up to the loopiness is taxing, to say the least. It doesn’t help that Biel’s saddled with being a Mother Theresa like figure, with shopworn “bonding” scenes with her small son. And then there’s that strange, unexplained young woman living with her, Christine (Eve Harlow), who is laughably dubbed in one early scene, and dubiously acts her way through the rest of her screen time.

Throw in some choppy editing and poorly construed peripheral characters (Ferland) that, predictably, measure heavily into a conclusion that has a daring message, yet blunders stupidly (with Biel babbling lines like, “We tried to help, we cuddled!”) and you have one silly genre effort from Pascal Laugier. By now, most of the significant members of the French New Horror Wave have debuted at least a sophomore feature, and Laugier seems to have aligned himself with Xavier Gens (Frontier(s) , 2007, The Divide, 2011) in that he clearly has a knack for inventive ideas but has no idea how to execute them effectively. Say what you will, but Alexandre Aja (Mirrors, 2008, aside) and the directing team of Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury (Inside, 2007) are leagues ahead of Laugier in style and execution. The Tall Man is excessively hysterical in its privileged viewpoint, and though it happens to sport a devious solution for social progression that’s worthy of a genre picture, its ideas deserve a better written and developed film.

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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