Review: ‘The Tall Man’ Is Short on Suspense and Smarts

The Tall Man - Jessica Biel

Editor’s note: The Tall Man creeps into theaters tomorrow, so hold your children close and enjoy this re-post of our SXSW review, originally posted on March 21, 2012.

SXSW Midnighter pick The Tall Man falls into the category of the most aggravating kind of disposable movies. It’s not bad, there’s a certain level of competency, and a few of its ideas, if translated right, would make for an interesting film. Unfortunately, those ideas aren’t handled right, and the final result is a tedious, bland, and unsubtle thriller.

Set in the small rundown town of Cold Rock, there lives the legend of “The Tall Man,” someone who’s been snatching kids away from their families. While there’s been no sighting or hard evidence of his existence, he’s still been talked up into a nightmarish figure. The government and anyone else of real importance hasn’t done anything about it since it’s a poor town. The lead of the film, Jessica Biel‘s Julia Denning, is a local free clinic nurse and a widow and, like everyone else, she fears even the very idea of The Tall Man. As expected, the legend comes and takes her child away.

While that’s a relatively simple plot, The Tall Man does take a few plot turns, which I won’t spoil here. None of them fall into unbelievability or utter stupidity, but neither do they hold any weight. They’re not twists for the sake of twists, but what writer/director Pascal Laugier attempts to say with them is heavy-handed and always at a distance. Once again, without spoiling anything, the film ends up being about parental responsibility. It’s admirable that Laugier is more interested in the subtext of the story rather than potential gore and thrills, but like the rest of the film, the message lands with a thud. The ultimate reminder of this is the (one of many) ending – which is a huge miscalculation. In addition to a multiple-ending problem, the very last one ends with a character literally asking the question of the film while actually looking at the audience. You can’t get more unsubtle than that.

Jessica Biel gives a decent performance, but she’s woefully miscast. The town the film is set in is clouded with the most unattractive residents possible, and Pascal fails in his effort to dirty Biel up in an attempt to make her appear just as average as every other girl in town. Biel’s a fine actress and manages to come out of a weak movie unscathed, but she sticks out like Victoria Secret model lounging around at a truck stop.

Having not seen Laugier’s Martyrs before seeing The Tall Man, I had no expectations or preconceptions about his latest. Now having seen his previous film, it’s disappointing how much The Tall Man lacks that film’s skill.

The Upside: Stephen McHattie is always a plus, Jessica Biel looks good even when she’s not meant to, a few chuckles.

The Downside: Bad pacing, tedious and laughable exposition, too many endings, the final ending is clunky as all hell.

On the Side: Jessica Biel also produced the film.

All you really need to know about Jack is his favorite movies are: The Last Detail, Rumble Fish, Sunset Boulevard, The Truman Show, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, The Verdict, Closer, Shadow of a Doubt, The Long Goodbye, Spider-Man 2, Jaws, Adaptation, Get Carter, The Last Days of Disco, Carnal Knowledge, Almost Famous, Ed Wood, Ace in the Hole, Barton Fink, and L.A. Confidential.

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