"I take orders from the Octoboss."

The Tall Man

Remember the excitement we had when we came across MARTYRS, written and directed by Pascal Laugier? A genuinely unpredictable, unformulaic horror movie. One that was brutal and unpleasant enough that I was hesitant about recommending it to people, but great enough that it’s become pretty much universally respected as the must-see horror movie of recent years. Probly of the decade. The pinnacle of modern euro-horror, the most respectable extreme-horror.

When there’s somebody who made something that unusual, that pure, obviously Hollywood knows what to do: string ‘im up. Bring him to the U.S., make him speak English, put him on a HELLRAISER remake. Waste his time in idiotic meetings, showing him that he’s not allowed to do whatever he wants. He must compromise. Show him who’s boss.

So he quit HELLRAISER. But he still made an English language movie starring Jessica Biel. I heard a long time ago that it wasn’t that good, I forget if it was at a film festival or somebody saw a test screening or what. But I believed it. It sounded about right. He was making HARD BOILED, we don’t want to see his BROKEN ARROW.

But the reports were wrong! This is more like his FACE/OFF. It was accurate to say “it’s not as good as MARTYRS” but that should be followed with “but it’s damn good.” I’m gonna go ahead and recommend that all horror fans see THE TALL MAN, preferably not knowing shit about it, like I did. It didn’t punch me in the balls like MARTYRS, but it certainly impressed me. This guy has made two in a row that don’t at all follow a horror formula that I can recognize. I don’t know how he does it.

It’s not what we call “extreme horror,” or trying to be. It’s not a watered down version of that either, it’s something different. Some painful bits, not alot of blood. Like in MARTYRS there’s a woman screaming a whole bunch at the beginning – but it’s because she’s giving birth. Not the same thing.

But it’s a whole lot like MARTYRS in the less superficial ways. It does that Brian DePalma or EYES WIDE SHUT thing where it leaves you guessing what it’s even gonna be about. It lets you get comfortable in the narrative just to spin you around until you’re dizzy and trip you down some stairs. It plays with your sympathy, your identification, your morals. It plays a trick on you unlike I’ve ever seen in a movie. And leaves you with a hundred questions to ponder. Good ones.

I’m gonna be spoiler free in the main part of this review, but I honestly recommend not even knowing anything at all. If you need an explanation I’ll just tell you that Biel plays a nurse at a free clinic in an impoverished former mining town where young children have been kidnapped in huge numbers. There are legends about a “tall man” who takes them into the woods or something, and the police can’t figure out what the hell is going on.

Everyone in town knows her – some seem to hate her, but mostly the assholes – and she’s always helping out people in trouble. So she’s gonna get mixed up in something bad.

Biel must’ve really believed in the movie, because she’s a producer on it. She’s really good in the role too, playing a strong woman firm in her beliefs, not afraid of men who get in her face, willing to scrap, to be chased, to chase back, to hide, to face extreme danger to her life and freedom. It’s a physical role but also emotional and layered. She gets muddy and bloody but that was probly the easier part.

The town is a little like Silent Hill, but mostly because that same girl Jodelle Ferland is in it. They call it Cold Rock, Washington. The mountain highways lined with tall evergreen trees do look like parts of this state, but I knew they were filming in Canada because in the diner there’s a sign for the “washrooms.” You can’t fool us, Canada. We know the tells.

I won’t say anything more specific about what happens, but like in MARTYRS there are unbelievable secrets beneath wholesome surfaces, sinister conspiracies with unexpected motives, elite groups that don’t necessarily respect our right to life in the same way we do, events that entirely shift our perspective of what’s going on and leave us dizzy. But not much in the way of torture. I don’t think there was any torture in this one. Kinda refreshing.

I paid to see this one on the video-on-demand (a second for me – the first time was EL GRINGO). It comes out September 25th if you want it on a disc. Come back and discuss it after you’ve seen it.

in that case highlight this part to make it more readable

Takes you for a spin, huh? I love how it seems like a pretty normal horror movie for a while and you don’t know it’s sneaking up behind you. And then even horror cliche stuff like The Entire Town Is Conspiring Against You gets turned on its head.  It’s original enough that I couldn’t resist looking at some of the IMDb message boards to see what kind of infuriating reactions it inspired. My favorite were the people arguing that it has misleading advertising (because the trailer doesn’t give away the surprises) and the guy arguing against the movie’s “liberal” pro-kidnapping message.

I guess the type of people who write on there could be confused by their own shoelaces, but these reactions are a symptom of what I like about the movie – that it’s layered and complex and thought provoking. I love that the movie left me not 100% sure what to think about this character and what she’s done, or what Laugier thinks about it. I mean, I’m pretty sure he’s against it. The final narration (which is maybe a little too much) tells you that you can’t for sure take it as a happy ending. We know nothing about this third mother. And how much does she know about where this kid came from? Can we trust her if she’s okay with that?

Common sense tells us that just because she seems to have more money than the real family doesn’t necessarily mean she can offer a better life.

But maybe she can. I don’t see an abusive male figure around. We know her life was bad. She wanted out. Better this than running away and turning tricks in Seattle. I’ve seen STREETWISE.

It’s so harsh, but in a completely different way from how MARTYRS was harsh. It makes you contemplate an uncomfortable idea: what if she’s kinda right? Who are we to judge, when we’re not doing shit about it ourselves? We know there is this cycle, if these kids grow up this way then certain patterns are gonna repeat. What if forcefully taking the kids out of there would save them? What if going too far works?

And we’re forced to see a parallel with the aid work that these people apparently did overseas. I mean, hopefully they’re not taking African kids away from their families, but they’re trying to help these impoverished communities to live better lives. If it’s heroic to do it there then how far can she go in an American town where nobody has jobs?

Is it classist? Is it condescending? Is she not giving poor people enough credit? Yeah, I think so. But then what the hell am I doing? Sponsoring one Guatemalan kid named Mario. That’s it. This lady’s trying harder than I am. Part of me respects that.

I mean, this bitch is crazy, but separate from her controversial activities here she’s also a saint. She’s literally bringing these kids into the world, without proper equipment. There’s at least one baby that is born dead, and she gives it life. And when it comes to that other thing she martyrs herself, allowing everyone to believe she’s a mass murderer so that the kids can live their new brainwashed lives without people looking for them. This is more important to her than making people understand that she believes her motives to be pure. More important than not getting rocks thrown at her head.

And the last scene gives you an extra spoonful of sugar to help it go down, since this girl figured out what was going on and asked to be taken away. And she seems to like the situation, in fact it finally helped her to talk, something she could never do in her old life. But even she’s left unsure what to think. And what was that bit where Biel warned her about the horrible things “The Tall Man” would do to her if she told anyone? Was that just a machievellian thing, I gotta scare her into compliance, or was it a real threat? Because even though the girl drew a spooky silhouette I think “I saw him” just meant “I know what you’re up to” and not “I saw the mythical Tall Man who comes out of the woods and steals the babies.”

And you know what, even though I think what this lady’s doing is wrong, there’s something tragic about her even before her operation goes south. She becomes a “second mother” to these kids and if all goes right then they get taken away and she never sees them again. If it goes wrong, the kid she was just playing with remembers his real mom again and becomes scared of her and runs away. I mean I’m sure it’s fulfilling work in other ways, but it’s gotta be hard on her emotionally. She’s Mary Poppins from Hell!

I hope you guys liked this one as much as I did. If not, at least be happy that Laugier’s doing his own thing and not some remake or reboot. That said, be sure to stay after the credits for when it finally does show Angus Scrimm and the silver balls that were only implied in the rest of the movie.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 21st, 2012 at 11:58 pm and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

46 Responses to “The Tall Man”

  1. Martyrs freaked the living shit out of me, to the point that I still sometimes think about it 3 years after seeing it. I would not have made the effort to see this without your review Vern but now I think that I might. Jessica Biel is very rarely in a good let alone great movie (except The Illusionist).

  2. I already spoiled this film for me by reading, I think it was Billy The Kids raging review on Aint It Cool, and that was from the most part a rant against the mid point twist, and the anger of being lied. I think we all have being pissed of at twist that we feel destroys the film like Haute Tension.

  3. I was just saying last week in a discussion with a couple friends who also liked MARTYRS that I hope this didn’t suck, and now here’s Vern telling me it doesn’t suck… and that’s available on video on demand. I was planning to watch JUAN OF THE DEAD off VOD this weekend. I’ll have to make it a double-feature.

  4. MARTYRS must be one of the saddest moviesi ever seen in my life. Saddest in that the story it tells, besides being utterly brutal, is very sad. Sadness was what i felt after i watched it. and for the next 3 days afterwards. A very powerful movie. Anybody who makes a movie like that has to be talented. So, i’m quite curious to see this his next movie.

  5. I’m still meaning to see MARTYRS, I am a TERRIBLE procrastinator when it comes to movies

    also, is it me, or does this sound like it was inspired by those “Slender Man” stories on the internet?

  6. Not a single phantasm reference. Troubling. ;-)


  8. All right, glad we can check that box.

  9. asi – exactly! It isn’t the level of violence in the film that makes Martyrs so disturbing – it’s the context of that violence and the themes with which the movie deals that I find so saddening and disturbing, and what makes Laugier much more than a “torture porn” director. I would watch this on the strength of his name and Vern’s review.

  10. So, it’s NOT a remake of THE TALL GUY, with Jeff Goldblum and Emma Thompson? Not that I would mind seeing a re-envisioned version of ELEPHANT! THE MUSICAL BASED ON THE LIFE OF THE ELEPHANT MAN, but I’m glad to see Laugier is breaking new ground here.

  11. DirkD13

    Yes indeed. When i watched MARTYRS, and the impact the movie causes, i though about why it does so, and it come to my mind one line of dialogue in the David Cronenberg’s movie VIDEODROME. In the movie, the old debauched woman tells the James Woods character that the reason why Videodrome is dangerous is because it has a philosophy. Anbd this can aply to both the evil people in MARTYRS and the movie itself. What is so hurtful to watch in the movie is because it all serves a purpose, and they are dedicated to it with the drive of true believers. also, the movie really has something to say, a theme to present, and thus, it can cause an impact so much stronger then a mere exercise in torture porn.

    I think in terms of emotional impact caused by the presentation of violence and emotional torture, the closest thing to how effective MARTYRS is by comparison is with Pier Paolo Pasolini’s SALO OR THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM.

    I hate to sound like an old cynic, but i’m getting quite weary of so much of the knee jerking reactions so many people have to movies, as if superficiality is not just a problem in movies, but also on those who review them, if you know what i mean.

  12. So i saw both THE TALL MAN (english comedy movie of the early 90s) and the PHANTAMS series movies, so i got all the comedy references made at this movie’s title.

    So, all that time wasted watching movies alone instead of hanging out in popular bars meeting new and interesting hot chicks with good prospects of sex did payed off!

  13. I usually agree with Vern 100% (at least on movie quality), but not on this one. The big problem I have with this is the lead up to the twist – ******If you haven’t seen this, consider yourself warned all spoilers from here*****

    The way the towns people reacted and the way law enforcement especially reacted was all wrong – why on earth if a mother discovered who had her kidnapped child, and she had told all the law, local and otherwise, then why would they stage another “kidnapping” to take the child back? That makes no sense! The writers only do it to play with the audiences expectations – that this is a “thriller” and the person that just took the kid was the title character. The do it again soon after with the odd behavior of the town’s people. Why would they act all weird and not confront Biel’s character directly? Why would the kid be taken to some old run down abandon foundry? Why not to his home? Or the police station? Again the only reason is so they can “fool” the audience into thinking it is one of those “this whole town is a bunch of crazy, human sacrificing, worshipers of Cthulu. I like a good old fashioned twist, and actually being surprised by a movie is always nice, but for me this was more insulting. Less “oh wow I didn’t see that coming” and more “oh so that is what is going on…hey wait a minute, why didn’t the cops raid her house and take the kid back…what the heck? I couldn’t as they say suspend my disbelief after that. The movie also somehow manages to both be heavy handed and wishy-washy on the message. So it has that going for it, good job, The Tall Man.

  14. I can forgive the fudging of proper police procedure or the actual reactions people would have in that situation in order to sell the twist, because I thought the film sold the twist well.

    And above all, it kept me guessing and entertained without taking me too much out of the movie. Once the woman confronts Biel and starts talking I really went “wait, what?”. First third or so of the movie is rather boilerplate missing child mystery with allusions to a generic folklore killer out of any random DTV slasher. The twist throws enough of a curveball I was instantly back into the movie. I *like* being surprised and not knowing where a film is going. In retrospect, yeah, some things might not make complete sense, but at the moment, I think it all worked brilliantly.

    The rest of the movie, having practically switched genres, was interesting to watch because it felt the whole thing moved into a complete different territory. It tackled issues with depth while movies of this type otherwise pay even lip service to. It’s funny that the whole reveal about the Tall Man manages to be both seriously disappointing (as far as supernatural mystery genre conventions go) *and* thought-provoking and emotionally resonant with the mundane horrors of the real world.

    Maybe it’s the playing with the expectations and genre conventions what makes people reject the film. Had this being more upfront about its intentions and sticking throughout with the human drama – like its spiritual cousin, GONE BABY GONE – I think it would be better received. Now people who want a straight up (supernatural) horror flick end up disappointed because the film shifts gears and takes it into a (very interesting) dramatic direction they didn’t sign up for. And the critics and the audience who would usually champion a drama about child abductions are turned away because it looks like a teen slasher starring that whatshername hot chick with a great ass.

    Too bad. I too think this was a genuinely good film. And Biel was really good in it. Never really thought she had the acting chops for it. Color me impressed.

  15. SPOILERS here of course… trying to keep it out of the “recent comments” preview here. Yeah, obviously if it doesn’t work for you it doesn’t work for you. But my reaction was like HT described. I know that some of those things aren’t completely realistic, but to me they’re good enough to sell the outlandish twist. For example they come up with the excuse that the mother didn’t go to the police because she was so sickened by how nice Biel treated her that she wanted to go after her herself. Probly not what would happen, but the reality shift is so good it’s worth it to me to go along with it.

    I like that it’s not treated the way “twists” normally are. It’s not at the end of the movie, like it’s all leading up to the reveal. It’s also not a sudden reveal, like in a SCREAM movie where the real killer comes out and starts making a speech about why they did it. No, it’s more like things stop going the way they were supposed to and you still have to watch and piece together what exactly is going on, what is this lady talking about, what information you’re missing here for a few scenes before you’re sure. It’s ingenious as a show-offy thriller maneuver but even still it’s only setup for the more morally ambiguous part of the story, which is what’s really interesting about the movie.

    Of course, none of the actual substance of the movie was mentioned in that Billy the Kidd review, or the fact that it’s from the writer/director of MARTYRS (which makes me think Billy must not be a horror fan, otherwise he would’ve mentioned it even if he didn’t like MARTYRS, or even if he hadn’t seen it he would know it had fans and was relevant to mention). I would be so pissed if I had read that review not knowing what it was. It seems reasonable to take his word for it that it’s just some crappy Jessica Biel movie that you weren’t planning on seeing anyway, so you would go ahead and read the spoiler and ruin it for yourself.

  16. I’ll be back when I do!

  17. M. Prestwich: Spoiler-filled comment to follow this sentence which is nothing more than camouflage for the “recent comments” function.

    The mother of the abducted child makes a remark about how she basically went vigilante because the police were the ones who evicted her from her home (probably due to failure to pay her rent/mortgage), which resulted in her living in the abandoned school, and because, until earlier that day, the town thought she was nuts. The town wasn’t really on board with this apparently crazy lady’s assertion that Biel’s character was the kidnapper; they were waiting for her at the diner more as a gesture of support for one of their own, not to hatch a rescue operation. Basically, the town folk were waiting for the outcome of the vigilante raid before deciding what to do. Prior to this, there was a scene between a mouthy town folk guy and Sheriff Cigarette Smoking Man that demonstrates the ineffectualness of the local cops, the disdain with which they are held, and the preference among the town folk for mob justice. The scene where Biel is hiding in Sheriff Cancer Man’s car serves to depict how poorly he’s scrambling to contain the situation that is only just beginning to erupt.

    I also think that the scenes between Biel and the abducted kid were sufficiently unsettling to suggest that something tragic defined their relationship. So the revelation of Crazy Lady’s motherhood didn’t come out of nowhere.

    I’m not saying that this invalidates your remarks. TALL MAN certainly felt more contrived than MARTYRS. I also think it really could have benefitted from a more naturalistic depiction of the town, like in WINTER’S BONE or MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE; the staginess didn’t help conceal the seams of the perspective shifts in the narrative.

  18. SPOILERS ahead… As Vern has noted, the film is certainly worth seeing from a perspective of total ignorance as to its subject matter. I mean damn, The Tall Man certainly has the best trailer I’ve seen in YEARS because it actually supports the film’s series of reveals instead of working against them.

    So, I’m in that minority that really can’t stand Martyrs, but this film worked better for me. I’m way more willing to have a conversation about forced redistribution of children than about is it okay to torture people into martyrdom. They both follow similar structures in that the first half of both films is a cat-and-mouse game, and the second veers off into the weird controversial conversation the filmmaker wants to have, and it’s nice to see that the dude’s voice didn’t get stamped out in making the move to Hollywood.

    I guess what deflated me about TALL MAN was: isn’t this just about Vigilante Social Services? Obviously the real Social Services isn’t going to cut it in this town. Probably the best evidence towards this is the scene where Sketchbook Girl sees her mom and her mom’s rapist boyfriend beat each other up and then stand there laughing about it. Her mom knows that this guy is garbage, but she’s not going to do anything about it, and she’s CERTAINLY not going to let some government authority intervene on her kids’ behalf! (She explicitly points this out in the beginning with that whole “We take care of our own shit” stuff). On the other hand, it’s a little convenient that Sketchbook Girl has a) a textbook case where Social Services WOULD intervene on a child’s behalf and seize custody, b) A mom that won’t let that happen, and c) is grown-up enough to make her own decision about using Tall Man as a means to get out of the situation. It all seems geared towards allowing the film to lay down it’s whole “Is this okay? Is it? IS IT?” quandary so blatantly at the end. Perhaps this could have all been portrayed more strongly if they had instead centered on David’s case, the freckled kid who’s terrified of Jessica Biel and just wants to be with his poor-but-nonabusive mother.

    -Isn’t the nice-clothes-and-clean-rooms shorthand a little annoying, as a signifier of what constitutes a good environment? Jessica Biel: “Well, don’t let him watch CARTOONS!”

    -Why do Jessica Biel and her sidekick object to that one baby being sent to Seattle? Isn’t that exactly what Jessica Biel would do anyway? Or are they taking it as a foregone conclusion that the matriarch of that family is going to capitulate and bring the baby back?

    -Isn’t it convenient that Vigilante Social Services deposits you in an ideal family setting, whereas Real Social Services deposits you in a horrible orphanage/abusive foster family (one can infer)?

    My basic premise is that this guy’s films win your favor with the first half and then coast on your good faith through his possibly thin (in this case), or really stupid (in MARTYR’s case) second halves. I had no problem with the realism or lack thereof of the twists and reveals: most fun I’ve had at the movies in ages!

  19. I rarely blind buy a movie unless it’s a Shaw Brothers or some other important kung fu film that is hard to rent and probably belongs in my possession. I made another exception for THE TALL MAN, and I’m glad I did. I think I agree 100% with Vern’s review here, except I wanna note for the record that this is not as good as FACE/OFF. I mean, I know Vern’s not really saying that it is. I get the comparison, about the good foreign directors doing an American movie that’s supposed to be sanitized by The Man but ends up being awesome anyway, but just to be clear, c’mon, almost nothing’s better than FACE/OFF.

    Alright, enough Charlie Bowles non sequitur comments padding, let’s get a tad SPOILERy. Yeah, you have to accept the movie telling you that the feds don’t get involved in the rash of kidnapping cases because the town of Cold Rock is so poor & shitty that no one cares. Not totally implausible, I guess, but hard to believe any sheriff or local official worth his/her sand wouldn’t demand federal or state assistance in investigating the crimes.

    Anyway, I could see how that, and the convenient ability for nurse Julia to sneakily enter & exit the back seat of a police car by herself (Those doors really open from the inside?) would irk some viewers, but that’s all I got. That’s it. Nitpicking complete.

    Everything else in this movie is backed up by the facts and the script. And it’s a good fucking script. And some excellent filmatism. The tracking shot semi-close-up toward the end on nurse Julia’s weirdly content face as she ascends the stairs and enters the room with all the travel souvenirs & photos of her husband with young children in other countries is well executed, and it contains a wealth of information, all conveyed nonverbally. Showing not telling. Beautiful. Impressive but not show-offy.

    I’m always in the mood for a good mystery, and I’m willing to let a movie “withhold” some facts if that’s what’s required to fuck with my head a bit. THE TALL MAN does that, but the thing that makes it fun & engaging is how it twists itself so naturally & confidently two or three twists ahead while the viewer is still sorting out the implications of twist #1. We’re playing catch-up almost the whole time, but it’s fun & rewarding and more than a little bit scary.

    And as we reach the end of the movie, we realize it hasn’t been all about one big reveal, one big payoff. It’s been a constant series of payoff moments — not crescendoing in a traditional narrative-cinematic way, but leading to a quiet, tortured acceptance that the good-guy-cum-bad-guy-cum-hero/scapegoat-cum-criminal-cum-villain-cum-¿villain? is committing to a huge, decades-long sacrifice of her freedom, her well-being, and her ability to tell anyone the truth of her cause (and her male partner, who fights her in a deleted scene that was rightfully deleted because it doesn’t make any sense even though it’s a pretty good fight).

    And with this plot flourish, with the looooooong time spent establishing this character, after all the plot twists have already come to pass, after we realize that the opening scene’s dialogue, injuries, and police behaviors have very different meanings than what we probably initially assumed before the callback much later in the movie
    (This aspect reminds me of FF Coppola’s THE CONVERSATION, the suspense & narrative of which hinges on a single syllable’s intonation.),
    the viewer arrives at yet another twist — the realization that we don’t know if this is a happy ending or not, that we’re still not 100% sure what happened, and if we can accept the façade of what’s happened without embracing the gooey, dangerous substance, the tricky innards of What It All Means.

    I thought I was watching a horror-thriller, not a morality study, not a socio-psychological brain-burrower. The action was excellent, and the chases & interrogations were scary. Good editing, good color scheme, photography, slick opening credits, no insultingly stupid material once you ascribe the mute girl’s problems to domestic abuse, excellent acting, a couple Seattle shout-outs to please local man Vern. Checked all those blocks, so it’s a good film. Now there’s this other stuff that’s actually making me think about stuff, too? Goddamn, now I’m getting my money’s worth. Now it might be a great film. Fuckin’ a. Now I guess I got no choice but to watch it again and show it to all my friends. See if they see the same movie. Or movies.

    Now I gotta see the next Pascal Laugier joint.

  20. “I thought I was watching a horror-thriller, not a morality study, not a socio-psychological brain-burrower.”

    I’m glad you’re saying that as a compliment and not as a criticism, as I have seen in way too many comments and reviews. People angry that a movie surprised them.

  21. I just watched this one the other night and really dug it. I had very much enjoyed MARTYRS, but not nearly to the degree that Vern and many others here did, and thought this one took some of what was special about that film and improved upon it. I thought the filmmaking here was a lot more elegant, the characters better drawn, and the psychological aspect far more disturbing because I think it deals with more relatable moral dilemmas. Found this one very chilling and surprisingly thoughtful, for what on it’s surface is a fairly ridiculous story.

  22. I have to admit that at first although I liked this one quite a lot and was constantly enraptured by it, I was sort of disappointed that by the end it basically stops being a horror movie. It’s weird genre-bending structure means that the scares peak around the middle, and afterwords never quite build up again.

    Or at least that’s what I thought. But then I spent all night dreaming about the very end, with its creepy ambiguous morality, and decided that it actually creeped me out in a very different way than I’m familiar with. I think it may have managed to freak out my conscience by making me genuinely unsure of how I felt about all this. Predictably, I suppose, anything that surprises people is gonna piss them off, but at the very least this movie is just too damn well-made to ignore.

  23. Yeah, Vern, Subtlety, et al, glad we’re mostly on the same wavelength. I’m in a weird subcategory of moviewatchers, though, because I don’t seem to have the ability to be scared, or even enjoyably ” ha ha ‘scared’ ” by 99.99% of [horror] movies. Thus, when THE TALL MAN introduces that element and is at all successful with it, even for only 40 minutes or so, even if it doesn’t sustain as strictly a horror movie to the very end, I still appreciate that for just one shining moment it *did* accomplish the near-impossible feat of giving me the willies, making me jump, making me uneasy, making me want to kill something or cower from it.

    On the other issue — the bad reviews based on confusion/anger or a bizarrely shuttered view of conventions in THE TALL MAN that doesn’t account for the many subversions/twists of those conventions — I dunno, dude. Fuck the critics. I don’t buy stuff from those assholes’ Amazon widgets. Some of them got it right, though.

    Man, this is blowing my mind. I identified probably my favorite scene —
    — the one that I mentioned earlier with the Aronofskyian Snorricam, the Spike Lee & Anna Paquin’s 25TH HOUR style walking semi-close-up, the scene that also now that I think of it reminds me of the tone of the creepy dreamy follow-&-dance sequence toward the end of NE TE RETOURNE PAS (DON’T LOOK BACK) —
    — but I identified that as a cool shot/scene without even thinking about its relationship to an accompanying parallel shot/scene.

    So I gave props to the filmatism without even doing what I usually do as an amateur critic and figuring out all the reasons why it’s good filmatism, like a baseball fan who sees in the box score a complete game shutout only to later realize that it was actually a no-hitter, or like a teacher who initially gives a kid an ‘A’ on a test and later realizes that the student went above & beyond by also correcting a typo in one of the questions. Gotta revise my praise and give extra credit here.

    The other scene I’m remembering is nurse Julia’s arrest scene. She starts at the window, seemingly asleep or entranced,
    has a rock thrown at her,
    descends the stairs (deliberately shot to mirror her ascension in the other great shot),
    receives specific instructions on how she will proceed outside (She is decidedly no longer in her own world, no longer in control of herself in any way, no longer allowed to drift contentedly.),
    struggles to move from porch to vessel,
    gets shoved down into the backseat (not of her own volition, unlike the other time she hides in the back of a police vehicle),
    absorbs an onslaught of insults & threats (Righteous mob justice? Or *injustice* vis-a-vis imagery of a martyr on the road to Calvary?),
    cowers & rides away while surrounded by an increasingly large & angry crowd of adult hicks (the opposite of the figures surrounding her in her lovely international photos),
    and finally ducks in fear as she gets blasted in the face by broken glass and another rock.

    It’s a great scene, including a shot that’s not totally incomparable to similar long shots in
    CHILDREN OF MEN (You know the one.)
    or FRIGHT NIGHT 3D (unbroken action shot in & through the back of the SUV)
    or [REC]
    or THE INSIDER (the lawyer swarmed by reporters shot).

    In fact, taken together as one sequence, a bifurcated set piece if you will, this stretch of the movie reminds me of the famous, brilliant ferris wheel scene in THE THIRD MAN. Yeah, I fuckin went there.

    The movie depicts literal physical elevation, ascension (lit & fig) (also like the final paragraphs of THE FOUNTAINHEAD), and self-assuredness as the villain/protagonist pleads his case to the audience, revealing why he/she’s not such a bad person . . .
    then a disaster for the key figure, a big reveal, a trap meets him/her at the peak, the game is up. . .
    literal physical descent, loss of freedom, tight escape, impending doom.

    It’s a subtly clever little sequence, substantiated by camera tricks, the visual language of film conveying the whole essence of the movie in one or 2 microcosmic shots, much like the gorgeous “through the mirror” shot in Zack Snyder’s SUCKER PUNCH. It’s all there in THE TALL MAN, just subtle enough that you might not catch it on first viewing.

    The ending[s] don’t have quite the same effect in my gut as did, say, THE OX-BOW INCIDENT, though THE TALL MAN sort of feels similar to that classic tragedy, but I think it’ll stay with me the same way MARTYRS has so far.

  24. Mouth — thanks for bringing up those two shots, which are just shockingly great. The way that whole sequence of returning home and then getting arrested works out is just about perfect filmmaking. Maybe no one noticed because they just wanted some damn answers to what the fuck what going on, not a bunch of great filmmaking which brings us into the moment?


    “just about perfect filmmaking” — So I’m not crazy for comparing it to the ferris wheel scene in THE THIRD MAN, the most lauded segment of a movie revered as an all-time classic? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8i47-QBL4Qo
    (SPOILERy scene for a 64 year old movie you should’ve seen already)

    I’m also just now realizing that this is 2 movies in a row now where Pascal Laugier has his protagonist fall asleep at a key moment, spurring the action of the narrative by passively removing herself from any chance of affecting it and allowing a 3rd party [the martyrologist freaks in MARTYRS and the cops (whose arrival is subtly indicated by a simple blue & red light display leaking into view of the suicidal kidnapping assistant lady) in THE TALL MAN].

    I thought this was a weakness in MARTYRS, because, you know, what the fuck, why would you let yourself just fall asleep then & there when you should be running to freedom? It bothered me. That, and the part where she investigated the basement caverns. (Mr. Majestyk had similar minor complaints: https://outlawvern.com/2009/04/28/martyrs/#comment-1088 )

    In THE TALL MAN, however, it works. It makes sense that nurse Julia went to sleep at that particular moment and gave up on evading the law after sending off her final kidnap victim (or her final rescuee?) to her twisted (but righteous?) underground railroad to a better neighborhood. There’s also the ever-present possibility that, when a main character gets some shuteye (or like in THE MASTER when Freddy’s comfortably curled up on the big chair and suddenly sees/dreams/hallucinates all the females naked), the ensuing business is all a dream. I don’t think that’s happening here, but that card could be on the table.

  26. It should also be mentioned that that sequence marks a subtle but important change in style for the movie. Laugier uses careful cinematographic clues to tell us what kind of movie we’re supposed to expect — so close shots/quick cuts for the awesome car chase/fight, deep focus and lots of camera movement for the creepy abandoned-apartment-lurking scene, and then, suddenly, he changes it up and wants to be completely in this strange moment with our protagonist as the movie changes gears again.

  27. Saw this on Netflix the other night and absolutely loved it. I haven’t been able to track down Martyrs yet, but I will!

  28. This is an amazing film. Great story, acting, and filmatism. I can see why people are mad at the “cheats”, and I might have been too if the movie hadn’t pulled me in as well as it did.

    Part of me is sad to see it go straight to video/Netflix Instant, but part of me is glad that it’s this readily available for everyone. I suspect this will be a little word-of-mouth hit eventually.

  29. Dan: I’m just guessing, but I suspect that the relative “inelegance” of MARTYRS is a deliberate aesthetic choice.

  30. Holy shit… just watched this on Netflix and was blown away. I had avoided all spoilers and totally expected something like that movie “Sinister” that I keep seeing trailers for… well what I got was 1000x better. Great movie. Count me in the group that liked it better than Martyrs. Going to have the wife watch it now without telling her a thing about it or letting her watch the trailer.

  31. Jareth,

    I think you’re right, that the rougher look of MARTYRS is intentional and not, like, the result of incompetence. I just didn’t particularly like that choice and wasn’t sure it really worked for the movie. In fact, I’m pretty sure the more kinetic, shaky cam look of the first half was supposed to contrast to the much more classically shot last act. But I just thought it make a lot of the early scenes look herky jerky and confusing, especially anytime the imaginary monster showed up. It didn’t evoke the intended intensity for me so much as distract me from the weird, compelling story.

  32. So I finally saw this one, and holy crap, what a fuckin’ movie. Excellent filmatism, solid acting (I personally have never had a problem with Ms. Biel. She doesn’t come off as a brilliant thespian but she always seems confident and capable in whatever role I’ve seen her in. And her action chops in the truck chase scene make her a shoe-in for those awful Expendaladies movies), and a lot to think about when it’s all said and done.

    I mean, clearly we can’t be in favor of kidnapping poor children and giving them to rich people. The loss of an entire generation of kids is only going to exacerbate the downfall of the town, but then again, why should the children suffer for that? I wonder if this discussion would be going quite differently if the racial element had been added. As is, there are no minorities whatsoever in THE TALL MAN. But what if the story had taken place in an inner city ghetto, which mostly black and hispanic children being taken and given to wealthy white people? Would the implication that minorities don’t know how to take care of their kids as well as white people can obscure the very real points the movie was trying to make about the ingrained economic system keeping the lower classes locked in a cycle of poverty, abuse, and despair? Is it oversimplification of the issues or a stroke of genius to remove the racial element from the argument, letting it focus solely on class?

    Anyway, really intriguing and entertaining movie. This Laugier guy is the real deal. Form and function, ideas and effect, all in one, without any fanboy bullshit muddying the waters. Can’t wait to see what he does next.

  33. I mean, I got really excited watching this film. As far as process of Discovery goes, it probably is going to be the best film of the year. This year’s SOURCE CODE if you will.

    But I feel that everybody is giving it a bit of a pass as far as that when all the cards are on the table, it’s really not about anything that crazy is it? I mean there is ALREADY a mechanism in place by which the gov’t will come and take your child if you aren’t raising it good. That’s all the people in this movie are doing, only more extreme. Vigilante Social Services!

    I also want to accuse everybody of Drinking the Koolaid when it comes to the adequate-but-nothing-stellar lead performance in the film, but it’s probably too subjective of a fight to be worth starting.

  34. Glad I saw this – thanks to the review – and glad I came in unspoilerified. When it took a left turn midway through, I was thinking what the fuck did I miss, but it was a nice twist that had a non-horror payoff I really liked.

    Thanks for the reco Vern.

  35. Spoilers!

    I watched this on Vern’s recommendation, and through the first act I wondered if Vern hadn’t made a mistake. Nurse Julia’s reaction to the debate over the newborn was very odd, the acting seemed off. Similarly the scene with her in the house interacting with the boy and his nanny (as they seemed to me) was also weird and forced. Now I’m thinking that was some great acting and really great film and script work.

    More spoilers!

    It reminds me of the Prestige (and to some extent, Fight Club) where when you watch it the first time Christian Bale is just kind of an asshole sometimes (do you love your wife or not? How can you not know what knot you tied? Etc). But then the second time you can totally identify who he is in each scene just with some small acting choices/changes that go right past you the first time.

    I did notice Julia behaving weirdly though, but still I was gratified to find out that it was a specific choice for her character rather than bad acting.

  36. I have these 2 friends who are professional actors (and occasional “production assistants” and “waiters” when they don’t want to starve & destroy their credit scores), and thus are real big into drama and stage performance and *Serious Movies* starring Meryl Streep and Phillip Seymour Hoffman and all that heavy crap that puts me in a bad mood if I watch more than 1 or 2 of those kinds of Oscar earthworms each month.

    So, point is, I wouldn’t quite expect them to get onboard with my UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGEN & D.O.R. love, for example, but somewhat paradoxically I convinced them to watch SUCKER PUNCH and THE TALL MAN and they both loved both these movies! And they’re not just being nice about it so as not to hurt my feelings. They raise good points about why THE TALL MAN is great and they seem to love the ending where desperate Jessica Biel (though she has the strength & conviction of a fully self-convinced martyr) is like, “Right? Right?”

    I guess the talk-y scenes (like the one-on-one through the prison visitor glass explication & false confession to killing the kids) remind my actor friends of the most cathartic moments of certain stage dramas. So they were very pleased that it wasn’t a 100% horror movie, unlike some of the haters with their confused, angry online dismissals.

    The Pascal Laugier cult grows. . .

  37. Oh yeah, I forgot, good catch Jeffries. Comparisons with THE PRESTIGE, FIGHT CLUB, THE USUAL SUSPECTS, PSYCHO, THE 6TH SENSE, WILD THINGS, and NO WAY OUT are all worthy —
    all films you can watch a 2nd & 3rd time and see if the clues were always there to reveal some of the twists & twist endings, and also rewatch in order to appreciate the subtle acting maneuvers & expressions & inter-dialogue hesitations that strengthen the mysteries & characterizations & motives that aren’t apparent on first watch.

    It’s good to have another reason to rewatch.

  38. It’s a pretty contrived movie. Also, there really shouldn’t be much argument over if what Biel was doing was right. After all, if you lived in a very small town where one child was kidnapped every month or whatever,
    and you didn’t move to protect your own child’s life…well, someone who cares obviously needed to step in. Sort of a self-fulfilling circular type thingy.

  39. I like that it was different, but It felt like a pretty contrived movie to me. Also, there really shouldn’t be much argument over if what Biel was doing was right. After all, if you lived in a very small town where one child was kidnapped every month or whatever, and you didn’t move to protect your own child’s life…well, someone who cares obviously needed to step in. Sort of a self-fulfilling circular type thingy.

  40. Sorry you couldn’t dig it, Darth. I, on the other hand, keep finding new things, new signs of greatness, and new indicators of the tightness of the script every time I watch THE TALL MAN. People have been sleeping on this movie, because life’s not fucking fair.

    It’s loaded with interesting hints at its intent from the get-go:


    -Nurse Julia begins the movie by delivering a troubled child into the world (hint hint). A breech birth – that is, it comes out backward, a perversion of proper delivery into one’s existence.
    She has to dismiss the mother, an unprepared, poor, young girl from a hick family, and the mother’s mother, while she tends to the baby. That is, she acts as the “2nd mother” and the “3rd mother” to this newborn.
    She has to revive the baby, bring it back to life, or give it a 2nd life.
    The baby is then sent to a better-off relative in a nice big house in Seattle for a better life, a 2nd 2nd life.
    (Much later in the movie, we see that the baby is sent back to Cold Rock, undoing the noble-ish efforts to give it a better life in Seattle and thus fulfilling the doom portended by nurse Julia’s crying plea from jail that, no matter what she does, her efforts aren’t good enough to really change the cycle of pain & poverty, not good enough to overcome the bureaucracy & process of placing children in properly better homes. No matter how much good she does, no matter how many babies she revives & expresses concern for, it still doesn’t ultimately change the world for the better.)

    -Nurse Julia drinks a little tequila, gets tipsy offscreen, and the movie cuts to her walking downstairs (There’s a big upstairs-downstairs theme going on in this movie.), where she turns off a weird radio transmission of a guy yelling, “You’re going to hell!” She drinks milk (or was it milk substitute?) from a carton (Breast milk symbolism alert!). That is, she engages in baby-ish behavior, but suckles on an artificial replacement for what should be a mother’s milk. She is engaging in exactly the same behavior as that of her kidnap victims, metaphorically & microcosmically.

    -The kid’s math puzzle! It’s a perfect analogy of the movie’s script!
    And it describes the convolutions & contortions of nurse Julia’s life purpose! The self-fulfillment, the tautology, the logic, and the self-defeating illogic of it all.
    Think of a number, double it, add 6, cut it in half, subtract your number, and you always end up at 3.
    It seems so simple & obvious once you look closely at it, but you’re still kinda impressed, kinda left scratching your head for a minute by the twists & turns of how we got here, starting here and moving there and adding something and then moving back there and then subtracting something and we see that, after this massive twisty journey, we’re right back where we started and the thing we knew is the thing we knew except we’ve been enlightened by the process of getting to know it.

    1st mother, 2nd mother, 3rd mother… you end up at 3.

    -1st mother is very young & poor.
    -2nd mother is more mature, more caring, but decidedly deliberately a perverse intermediate.
    -3rd mother of the oldest kidnap victim/rescuee (the only one old enough not to have her memories erased when she moves out of Cold Rock) has gray hair! And she immediately acknowledges this fact.

    -The ground level of nurse Julia’s house represents a confusing, intermediate phase of life. It’s where her assistant interacts with the kidnapping victim/rescuee most, and where the silent girl confronts & embraces the mythological-heroic possibility of The Tall Man, where the monster is either savior or villain. It’s where Julia must descend & exit her dream, her old half-heroic life, and face the violent rage of the rock-throwing townspeople as she enters (for a 3rd time, for a 3rd separate purpose) the back of a police car.

    Upstairs is her ascension destination and the level at which the little boy plays happily. It’s their dreamworld, their heaven, where her African artwork collection and pictures of Julia & doctor husband with kids worldwide represent the zenith of her work.

    Basement/tunnel level is both hell and the delivery conduit to the next phase of life, to 3rd mother, away from the hell of Cold Rock. Gotta travel through the underground (or be stashed hidden under the back seat of The Tall Man’s SUV) in order to leave one shitty life for a presumably better one.

    Maturation, circle of life, holy trinity, symmetry, fulfillment, metaphor, microcosm, and a bunch of rich thematic stuff I didn’t even touch on yet… It’s all here in THE TALL MAN.


    Great movie. Some of the town folks behaviour seemed a bit contrived, but I can`t remember another movie (except A Tale Of Two Sisters) that has such an outrageous twist and doesn`t end up falling on it`s face. I was intrigued by the movie right from the start, but not really scared or emotionally involved. And then the twists started and I began to wonder how the fuck they were gonna make sense of it all. And then all the pieces start to fall into places. That`s pretty good screenwriting right there. And then the movie actually succeeded in choking me up in the end. That`s great screenwriting!

    Maybe I`m to familiar with the subject matter, but The Tall Man is (imo) one of the finest films about foster care that I`ve ever seen. It certainly doesn’t offer any easy answers, but manages to illustrate the cons and pros of forster care on an emotional level. We get all the way around a typical foster care-situation; the family, the system, the social worker, the relatives and the child. The movie succeeds in placing us in each of these persons realities, offering their subjective point of view and making us share their feelings. The twisty structure of the script makes it entertaining, yes, but it also illustrates the different sides of foster care on an emotional level by changing the audiences view on what´s right and wrong. It`s not just clever for it´s on good, the structure of the script actually serves a purpose.

    Having been in foster care myself, I`m naturally interested in the subject. When the girl with the notebook walks around in the end and speculates on her fate, I can totally relate to it. The feeling of putting on a mask (make-up) to fit in in the environment despite coming from a different class, the secrecy of ones true background, the feeling of being different from all the other kids around you, the loss of a loving mother who didn`t have the ability to be a good parent, the guilt of leaving ones biological family behind, and the everlasting doubt if this was the right thing to wish for.

    I love that the movie offers no solution to a subject, where there is no right or wrong, only people who mostly tries to do the right thing, but still ends up hurting the child they try to protect (and themselves).

    In conclusion, this movie pisses all over Gone Baby Gone, but will never get the acclaim it deserves cause it comes from the wrong fucking genre. Right?… Right?…Right?

  42. Great insights, DNA. I hadn’t really thought about how it makes you consider what’s going on from the perspective of every different side. Thank you for that.

  43. i somehow missed the news of this, or forgot about it, or something, but y’all across Launier’s new joint?

    Incident in a Ghost Land (2017)

    Directed by Pascal Laugier. With Crystal Reed, Adam Hurtig, Emilia Jones, Taylor Hickson. The story follows a mother of two who inherits a home from her Aunt. On the first night in the new home she is confronted with murderous intruders and fights for her daughters lives. Sixteen years later when the daughters reunite at the house, and that is when things get strange.

    (and yes, i know the link won’t work, har har har)

    what little plot description there is sounds awesome and according to their facebook page from a post a little over a week ago the first trailer should be dropping “soon”.

  44. well would you look at that

  45. They’re finally letting Laugier make a new movie? And they’re not going to yank the football at the last second again? This is very good news indeed!

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