Title: The Tall Man
Director: Pascal Laugier (‘Martyrs,’ ‘House of Voices’)
Starring: Jessica Biel, Jodelle Ferland (‘The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,’ ‘Cabin in the Woods’) and Jakob Davies (‘This Means War,’ TV’s ‘Once Upon a Time’)
Small towns that thrive on a trade often experience economical and emotional difficulties when their success runs out and they’re forced to hang on to what remains of their former way of life. As the townspeople are forced to adjust to their new lifestyle, they never expect to face an even bigger sinister threat, as is the case in the new crime thriller ‘The Tall Man.’ The children of the isolated, former mining town of Cold Rock in the Pacific Northwest begin disappearing one by one without a trace, leading the leaders of the area to contend with the possibility that a supernatural entity is taking them. The film takes extreme risks as it forgoes the normal supernatural and horror elements normally associated with such a tale by infusing the character-driven story with emotional bonds and daring plot points.
‘The Tall Man’ follows the towns people of Cold Rock as they start to believe the children are being abducted by the title character, a mysterious entity. Julia (played by Jessica Biel) is skeptical of the legend, until her son David (portrayed by Jakob Davies) disappears in the middle of the night. She frantically sets out to save her son as she lives every parent’s worst nightmare.
Julia begins to believe in the legend after seeing David being taken by the elusive supernatural figure, and declares she’ll stop at nothing to get him back. One of the local teenagers, Jenny (played by Jodelle Ferland), who is unable to speak due to her emotional neglect at home from her financially struggling family, offers to help Julia get David back. Jenny hopes in the process she, too, will be taken by The Tall Man and will be given a better life, despite the rest of the town’s outrage over the children’s disappearances.
The crime mystery truly brought Laugier, who has become known for writing and directing such horror films as ‘Martyrs’ and ‘House of Voices,’ out of his comfort zone to create a high-energy, thought provoking social commentary on family life in a small, struggling town. While Julia and the police do embark on a action-packed search for David and the rest of the missing children after they are kidnapped, ‘The Tall Man’ eloquently forgoes solely focusing on their relentless search. The filmmaker also infused his intense, unpredictable story with characters who are determined to stand up for what they believe in, no matter what consequences they’re destined to face.
Julia, for example, was willing to forsake the respect of the townspeople of Cold Rock by giving up her duties as a nurse to search for David as she puts belief in the fabled Tall Man, against her better judgment. Biel drew on her experience playing the strong-minded and willed Erin in the 2003 horror thriller remake ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ to create a complex backstory for Julia with Laugier. Despite ‘The Tall Man’ having a lower budget, and less intense action sequences, than some of her major studio films, like this month’s ‘Total Recall’ remake, the actress still embraced the intensive and obsessive nature of Julia. She wanted to help as many children, not just David, as she could, but became discouraged that she was limited by the law on how much she could really protect and save the families.
Biel also skillfully portrayed Julia as being genuine and sympathetic, while keeping viewers constantly guessing over her true motives and history throughout the course of the movie. While she created an intense history for Julia before filming began, Laugier also allowed her to be spontaneous on the set as well. He encouraged the actress to film numerous takes of every scene, knowing that improvisation could lead to more organic sequences.
Laugier and his production partners and producers also chose a fascinating location for the economically oppressed town of Cold Rock. After searching The Rocky Mountains in Canada, the producers eventually found the former mining town of Nelson in The Kootenay Mountain range. Nelson perfectly embodied and reflected the dreary, discouraged personalities of the Cold Rock parents and families who couldn’t find their children or jobs. Despite Julia and the rest of the townspeople’s determination to find the missing children, the decrepit nature of their homes, cars and streets perfectly reflect the glib futures they’re destined to face.
Cold River is truly one of the most important characters in the film, and production designer Jean Carriere truly made the numerous locations around the town appear as they were fencing in the characters like a prison. The mountains and trees of Nelson provided the perfect location for the ominous Tall Man to sneak in and out of Cold Rock without detection in order to kidnap the children. The countless trees and mountains acted as a natural deterrent, assuring that the adults couldn’t leave to seek outside help to find the missing children.
‘The Tall Man’ is a commendable English language film debut by the French Laugier, who wasn’t afraid to take both emotional and physical suspenseful risks throughout the course of the entire story. Making the crime mystery on a lower budget with an independent studio allowed the filmmaker to truly create the backstories of Julia, Jenny and the other characters, without having to sacrifice their integrity to focus on more action sequences. The well-planned characters, paired with the memorable location of Nelson, Canada, which stood in for the isolated and struggling town of Cold Rock, the crime mystery truly succeeded in telling the emotional story of a neighborhood trying to stop further heinous crimes and find its worthy place in the world.
Written by: Karen Benardello