Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Review : The Tall Man (2012)


Pascal Laugier


Jessica Biel, Jodelle Ferland and Stephen McHattie
When her child goes missing, a mother looks to unravel the legend of the Tall Man, an entity who allegedly abducts children. 

I picked a damn good time to return to horror.

In my extended hiatus, I managed to miss every single tidbit of news, hype and hearsay on this one. Its came at me out of nowhere, and to learn that this film was written and directed by none other than Pascal Laugier, he of MARTYRS infamy, (review here), was a gift from the dark gods.

THE TALL MAN, is, in fact, Laugier's first film since MARTYRS was burned into our souls forevermore; and whether that film disgusted or delighted, (or both), few would deny that his follow-up work would garner a significant degree of excitement among genre fans. I can't fathom how I never heard of this thing.

Anyway, onto the review...

Now, if anyone had asked me a year ago what my greatest fear was, I would have answered them in a heartbeat with one word. A word that struck terror into my heart all my life...spiders. In this last year however, I've become a Dad, and as the first line of defence for my daughter, I ain't got time to be a pussy. Spiders are assholes, no doubt, but there are far, far darker and deeper fears that keep me awake at night. The darkest of all these fears, of course, is that of my child going missing. Nothing freezes a parents soul to a greater extent. Nothing. The idea of the man behind MARTYRS tackling a horror film dealing with a child abductor is not only a delicious concept, but a fucking frightening one. Laugier isn't exactly known for his reserve, or for sporting a tiny pair of testicles for that matter.

The question is, can THE TALL MAN stand up next to MARTYRS, and the answer is a resounding yes. It delivers big time.

First things first, its vital that you go into this one knowing as little as possible. Much like MARTYRS, this film throws some mighty curveballs your way, and much of its power lies in its ability to bewilder, shock and confuse. Like its predecessor, it transcends genres, themes and concepts with wild abandon, and it doesn't give a shit whether you approve or not. What looks like a straightforward slasher film turns out to be something very different. Theres no cheating here. The film begins at a furious pace and will have viewers chewing at their nails till the blood flows from the get-go, but its no afraid to go to places we haven't been before. Idea's are everything here, and the film has many.

Some may feel the sting of disappointment that THE TALL MAN is a far less visceral movie than MARTYRS. There is violence, but its nowhere near as explicit. Laugier was never going to take the easy route though, instead, THE TALL MAN shocks and displaces us with its concepts rather than its viscera. There is real food for thought here. At the stories centre is a moral question that will keep many awake at night. As a father, I can admit that it troubled me greatly; more so than any film's conceit in recent memory. Its sure to spark some heated debate among film-goers; perhaps too heated in some circles; but that's what great cinema is all about, isn't it? THE TALL MAN is a transcendent experience. One that is both uplifting, profoundly disturbing and bristling with intelligence. This is more than a thriller, a slasher or a monster movie, folks.

Visually the film is stunning. The locations are breathtaking and its all shot with a stark, terrible beauty. The town where the tale is set is truly festering, as are its people, caught in the grip of fears both superstitious and all too real. Not only do you witness the poverty, you can almost taste the decay. It looks just incredible. Repulsive and fascinating. From dark woodland environs alive with mystery and dark legend, to small town cafeteria's populated by the dirge of a broken society, the closest approximation I can think of is that of David Lynch's Twin Peaks filtered through the hell of our economic crisis. The town feels not only lived in, but boarded up, shut down and declared hazardous.

The cast reflect the sense of desperation perfectly, with standouts being Biel's fraught mother searching for her child, and Stephen McHattie's worn down cop trying to find the lost children of his desolate community. Its a tough script that requires its actors to explore some very dark places, and they all rise to the challenge. Its something of an ensemble piece, and the large cast really bring the world to vivid life. No pretty boys or girls here, just real, honest-to-god people, warts and all. Even the lovely Biel is muddied up to look 'normal'. Lo and behold, it actually works. She's still stunning, but its easy to imagine her as the town beauty gone slightly to hell. The world inhabited by THE TALL MAN rarely, if ever, feels less than entirely real.

Essentially, THE TALL MAN will be even more divisive than MARTYRS. Its horrific in ways too varied to mention, but its not what one thinks of as 'horror'. Its often bone-chilling; but is more cerebral than most will be expecting, or used to. It lacks violence and it couldn't give a fuck about genre conventions, yet that's where its real power lies. Its a film about right and wrong, the greater good, the banality of evil and how to fight it. Its a totally unique experience that disorients, shocks, mystifies and disquiets. When all is said and done, and THE TALL MAN spits you out exhausted, and perhaps broken-hearted. And at the end, all your left with is your own thoughts. Where do you stand on its philosophies? What would you be willing to do to combat evil? Just how 'good' is the greater good? When does an angel become a devil?

THE TALL MAN asks all these questions and many more, and it offers no easy answers. It lacks the blunt force trauma of MARTYRS and its daring, devil may care approach to horror will piss off many; yet its an accomplished and challenging work is its own right. This is close to true art, while dressed in the garb of a mainstream thriller. Its a damn fine film, and it may just scar you. If you loved MARTYRS for its big brain, its philosophical themes and its drive to break new ground, your going to have a great time with THE TALL MAN, but if all that film meant to you was gore and torture, and that's all your looking for in this new work, you'd best look elsewhere. This is head-horror.

9 Prom Night Dumpster Babies out of 10

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