Sunday, 17 March 2013

The Tall Man, dir/wr. Pascal Laugier, st. Jessica Biel, Jodelle Ferland, Stephen McHattie

Forgetting for one moment the terrible title and awful poster design that utterly mis-sells this twisty thriller (or maybe that's the point), Pascal Laugier, whose previous efforts include the hellish yet compelling Martyrs, has crafted a very fine, very dark drama that riffs on small-town-set, supernaturally-tinged urban legend mythos. The film is set in the suitably named Cold Rock, once a thriving mining town that has been left to cultural and sociological decay following the closing of the mines and the downturn of the economy. This is, in fact, one of the most terrifying things about the movie; how a town can waste away, destitute, clawing with its fingernails on to the last vestiges of any sense of community or salvation. One wonders if the whole population might just disappear one morning Roanoke-style. Who would notice, or even care? In the midst of their townsfolk works fresh-faced do-gooder Julia Denning (Biel), the local nurse who's stayed on after her husband - the town physician - passed away. But, as you might have gleaned from the hooded figure that looms over Biel on the promo image - there is a malignant force that's abducting the local kids. Lore puts it down to The Tall Man, a shadowy figure that comes for the children out of the woods and the many, many miles of underground caves and disused, un-catalogued mines. So far, so X-Files. Actually, the whole production screams out as one of Mulder and Scully's more interesting episodes, in which exploration of the darker recesses of humanity evoke a fear and discomfort more palpable than any study on aliens or spectres. From the British Columbia bleakness and the presence of William B. Davis, to Todd Bryanton's Mark Snow-like atmospheric synthy score, there's a feeling that The Tall Man feels like a really good 46 minutes stretched to 100, but the predictable interest-losing payoff that inevitably concludes these kinds of films is smartly and ingeniously side-stepped in a way that feels like composition rather than an evasive manoeuvre.