Friday, August 31, 2012

Pascal Laugier’s The Tall Man

It is the town even country music forgot.  It has the grim name of Cold Rock, Washington, but it might as well be called “Stimulus Village.”  When the mine closed, the jobs disappeared, but that was just the start of their problems.  A prolonged epidemic of child abductions continues to plague the town.  Sketchy sightings of a shadowy figure have given rise to a new urban legend, but one desperate woman will confront the truth behind the bogeyman in Pascal Laugier’s The Tall Man (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

Julia Denning is registered nurse and the only remaining medical care-provider left in Cold Rock.  While her late husband was a beloved pillar of the community, many of the locals never really warmed to her.  Yet, she stays out of a sense of duty.  Then one fateful night, she wakes to find little David has been spirited away.  More resourceful than her neighbors, Denning gives chase, nearly reclaiming David from his abductor.  However, when Lieutenant Dodd, the big city copper on loan to overwhelmed small town, deposits the battered and distraught Denning at the local diner for safekeeping, she finds her fellow townspeople are acting suspiciously squirrely.

There is a huge game-changing twist in Tall Man, but Laugier drops it comparatively early in the game.  Instead of a M. Night Shyamalan ending intended to make viewers feel stupid for buying into his films’ ostensive premises, Laugier allows at least a good third of the picture to explore the implications of his revelation.  While the big surprise eventually leads to credibility questions that would be spoilery to explain, it is executed quite smoothly.

As Denning, Jessica Biel plays a critical role selling the gotcha, rather decisively subverting the woman-in-jeopardy archetype.  Stephen McHattie (star of Pontypool, probably the best zombie film since the original Night of the Living Dead) brings genre cred and a cool, steely presence to Lt. Dodd.  Unfortunately, the rest of the ensemble is largely underwhelming as underwritten stock characters.  Still, it is somewhat amusing to see William B. Davis, the cigarette smoking man in The X-Files, as the ineffectual Sheriff Chestnut.  You wonder why they keep re-electing him, given the circumstances.

Tricky to categorize, Tall Man largely inhabits the zone where horror movies and dark thrillers overlap.  Laugier is quite effective establishing the dark, eerie vibe, but his third act-denouement suffers from a lack of tension.  Still, The Tall Man is far more distinctive than other disposable horror-ish films that stumbled into theaters this year, such as ATM and Beneath the Darkness.  Soon to be an interesting VOD or rental choice, The Tall Man just does not quite have enough thrills or scares for current New York City movie ticket prices.  Maybe worth keeping in mind for later, it opens today (8/31) at the AMC Village 7.