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California Literary Review

Halloween Home Video #2: Pascal Laugier’s The Tall Man

The Tall Man promotional poster


Halloween Home Video #2: Pascal Laugier’s The Tall Man

Halloween Home Video (2012 edition) is your guide to the unsung scare flicks, thrill pics, and various fright nasties of this year. In a series of bite-size reviews, we hope to provide you with the perfect video rental option for the spooky soirée of your choice.

The Tall Man promotional poster

© 2012 Image Entertainment

For The Second Date

Pascal Laugier may be the most thoughtful and earnest of the filmmakers loosely grouped under the heading “New French Extremity.” Although his debut film Saint Ange has not enjoyed lasting success, his second feature Martyrs is a blistering philosophical rumination on the nature of suffering, both spiritual and profane. It is also one rough movie to watch. Do not go waltzing in unprepared. You might try a gateway film first, such as Laugier’s more subdued but very worthy third effort, The Tall Man.

Jessica Biel, the most notable star of Marcus Nispel’s abysmal Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, gets to stretch out in a more complex role here. As widowed town physician Julia Denning, she does her best to treat the wounds and deliver the children of an economically defunct mining community. These townspeople are not convincingly destitute to sell this point, but the stunning exteriors in British Columbia divert the eye and soothe us into accepting the story as it is given us. This movie does look very nice.

Julia has private burdens to bear, and each weighs her down a lot. She finds herself constantly held up to the legacy of her late husband, the town’s previous doctor, and the comparisons are seldom favorable. In addition, she sees more clearly than most that the children of her town have very little to look forward to in life. As though the recession were not bad enough, there has also been a string of child disappearances in the area, believed to be the work of a local phantom known as “The Tall Man.” Things get personal in a hurry one night, when a figure fitting the Tall Man’s description comes calling at Julia’s own house. Julia, though, is not about to give her little boy up without a fight.

Just when this conventional thriller structure seems locked on course for the pursuit, confrontation, and harrowing escape we quite rightly expect, a complete reversal of perspective jars The Tall Man out of orbit. This is a good thing because it is an unexpected thing, but does it also injure the film? For some people, the answer will be “yes.” Nonetheless the movie bravely fights its way out the wreckage and continues down an intriguing side road. More than one side road, in fact. Too many.

In terms of both story and tone, The Tall Man takes at least one sharp turn more than it should. Laugier flirts with some very dark ideas, and although the narrative provides a perfectly grim stopping point, he throws in a few final thoughts nearly optimistic enough to be called hope. This film is tragic, but not as gratifyingly bleak or even logical as it would have been without its final fifteen minutes or so. That said, the befuddling and morally dubious conclusion does improve upon reflection. It is not anything like perfect, but it is surely one of the most thought-provoking thrillers you will see this season.

Dan Fields is a graduate of Northwestern University with a degree in Film. He has written for the California Literary Review since 2010. He is also co-founder and animator for Fields Point Pictures, and the frontman of Houston-based folk band Polecat Rodeo. Google+, Twitter

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