Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Tall Man Twists A Thriller Story

In the small and isolated town of Cold Rock, people have seen their fair share of hardship. The mine that used to define their sense of purpose has long been shut down. And in the wake of the closure, a handful of families have hung on as it slowly winds down and dies.

While most people were content to just get by on the hope that things might one day turn around, living in poverty has begun to take its toll. And then it started. One by one, the children of Cold Rock began to disappear at a pace of one every few months at the hands of a villain born out myth and folklore.

The Tall Man twists its genre definition. 

Although The Tall Man (not to be confused with Phantasm) is billed as an independent horror flick, it effortlessly skips across several genres, transitioning from folklore horror into a psychological thriller and then again into a societal critique that will leave some people reeling to define what makes a monster. It's important to know up front, because pure horror fans will likely be left disappointed.

Nobody who loves indie films will feel as cheated. It's the seamless transitions that give the film its dark-hearted beauty. There may be blood, but no gore or torture. In its place is one part intensity and shock and one part gripping psychological twist.

This is what makes movie more than it ever could be by staying true to its synopsis. It doesn't hurt that most of the story is driven by a very different Jessica Biel than the one people will see in the remake of Total Recall based on the story by Phillip K. Dick. She plays better as a plain Jane than other roles.

Jessica Biel drives a well thought out and talented ensemble. 

It's her story, especially at the start, that immediately earns our sympathy. She plays the town's nurse, Jessica Denning. Denning couldn't bear to leave the people of Cold Rock stranded, so she decided to keep the clinic open after her husband, the town doctor, passed away. It's a good thing too.

She's needed in the opening scene as a single mother (Samantha Ferris) drives her two daughters to the clinic. One of them, not even 15, is about to deliver a baby. The father, a down-and-out miner and presumably the mother's boyfriend, is why this broken family intends to keep the baby as their dark and dirty little secret.

Denning barely saves the baby, but not without expressing concern. She's torn between being the town's only medical professional and her own definition of motherhood. Mostly, Denning doesn't understand because she dotes on her boy, David.

During the day, David (Jakob Davies) is cared for by a live-in nanny. But every night, Denning plays with him on his terms. It's an especially stark contrast to the rest of the town, which generally allows children to play unsupervised despite the terror of the Tall Man always lurking in the background.

Too paralyzed by their daily struggles to do anything, most of them wait for the next tragedy to happen secretly praying it won't be their child. And this time is seems they might get their wish. David is the one the Tall Man comes to take. But this time, in his apparent haste, Denning is able to pursue him.

Other fine performances are turned by Jodelle Ferland (the non-pregnant second daughter who wants to be taken), Stephen McHattie (Lt. Dodd), and William B. Davis (Sheriff Chestnut) among them. The balance of the people who make up the town are equally well cast, with better-than-indie direction.

A couple quick graphs about director Pascal Laugier. 

Some industry insiders list French filmmaker Pascal Laugier as among the most likely to lead a new wave of talent in cinema. They might be right. Although audiences have come to associate his name with horror for films like the award-winning, genre defying Martyrs (2008) and House of Voices (2004), The Tall Man shows a maturity as he simultaneously stays true to the genre while transforming it.

Laugier can easily make transgressive art films, but it's his ability to transcend it that makes him someone to watch as a writer and director. In The Tall Man, he proves it by taking something that could have been transgressive and then suggesting we are more likely to live it than anything he can put on the scene.

The Tall Man By Pascal Laugier Surprises At 7.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The Tall Man demonstrates how some of the best filmmaking on the horizon doesn't have to be wrapped in traditional genre packages to entertain. It's always been this way, but it's nice to see that there are writers and directors willing to push harder to make distributors give up on labels that sometimes promise and then disappoint (e.g., dramedy and whatnot).

Expect to see some down voting on iTunes, mostly because the The Tall Man carries a hefty but common early rental price. Often, these rates either help the artists offset costs when they've bypassed a theatrical release. If you prefer to purchase it outright, the best bet is The Tall Man [Blu-ray] on Amazon or DVD at Barnes & Noble (due out Sept. 25). Otherwise, wait awhile and it will eventually be listed for what has become the standard for rentals. I didn't wait and have no regrets (knowing it wasn't straight-up horror).
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