It seems rather fitting that this dark, and sometimes nutty Canadian thriller shares the same name as an Australian ice-creamery franchise.
Okay, so it’s not the diabetes curse the stuff in the waffle cone is, but director Pascal ‘Martyrs’ Laugier’s latest is akin to the dessert in that it’s a tasty, surprising and good looking (the Canadian wilderness always lends itself beautifully to film) scoop of temporary amusement.
“The Tall Man” isn’t exactly something that’s born for the big screen – in the way a superhero blockbuster or Roland Emmerich special effects show reel is – but it’s visual palette and piercingly effective audio is undoubtedly one of the biggest attractions of the movie.
Those well shot Canadian locales, combined with the flashy visuals, imaginative blend of edits, and wired orchestra of spooky sounds, really helps the movie play a lot better than the vanilla DTV fodder it’s synopsis may perceive it to be (in fact, every bit of the marketing material suggests the film is a horror movie – it’s far from that).
And to that synopsis : We’re in a small town. Imagine a rickety little place smack-bang near the border. Think Twin Peaks or Bons Temp without their stout populace. Numbers are dwindling because kids are being kidnapped – allegedly by the mysterious, shadowy figure of the title. It’s been happening for years, but nobody has been able to catch this so-called ‘Tall Man’ – a fellow who emerges in the middle of the night, snatches the kid, then drives off with them in their van. The kids are never seen again, but neither are their bodies – which leads parents to hold out hope.
Jessica Biel plays the widow of the town’s late doctor – who, of course, died under mysterious circumstances. When we first meet nurse Julia Denning, she’s delivering the baby of a grungy local, someone who doesn’t seem to be too fussed whether the kid lives or dies. Just as well, seems the child is stillborn…
Years later, we see that the tot was actually resuscitated. And assumingly because she knew the biological mother didn’t want it, Julia’s playing mother instead. Perfect scenario – while it lasts.
The Tall Man, of course, plays a visit and robs the beauty of her prized possession. She gives good chase, but sadly couldn’t rescue her boy before the kidnapper’s van sped off down the dim-lit highway.
The authorities, including a big-city investigator (Stephen McHattie) and the lethargic local law-enforcers (William B.Davis among them), aren’t much help. In fact, they seem as shady as the guy that’s snatched the kid.
And so begins the ‘So who’s up to what?’ question that you’ll ask yourself until about the, oh, 70 minute-mark.
“The Tall Man” plays like a terrific episode of “The X-Files” (those Canadian locales, complete with a supporting turn by “X-Files” alum William B.Davis – again as another shady type – doesn’t help deflect comparison) crossed with Ben Affleck’s magnum opus “Gone Baby Gone”. It’s not as flawless a film as the latter, and lacks its punch and drive, but it shares the same bath water.
It’s not all cover tracks. Though much of it does play like something you’ve seen before, some of its plot is also rather unique. The screenplay comes complete with a very surprising and possibly even controversial plot twist about mid-way through the film that, well, to say much more about it may be robbing the film of one of its more unique elements – and what helps hole-punch a better aligned picture than what it may have ended up with otherwise. Director offers an original spin on a blueprint that’s been used before, I guess, is a more succinct statement.
“The Tall Man” is a moody, unique and rather original take on the bogeyman thriller that’s sprinkled in some welcome psychoanalytical questions it wants your mind to answer sometime during the films minutes. No, it’s not Hitchcock – not even close – but it is a much better film than its top-line number and unoriginal artwork might perceive.