THE TALL MAN
The Tall Man is one of the most head-spinning films that one has seen in some time. (I am not entirely sure if I mean that in either a good or a bad way). The film opens on Jessica Biel, battered, with one eye swollen and pieces of glasses being picked out of her face by a doctor as she is being comforted by Stephen McHatties FBI agent who says we havent found him. Or any of the others, where the impression we get from the scene is that her son has been abducted. It is important to remember these seemingly innocuous details as the scene provides complete misdirection for the entire film to follow. The film then flashes back 36 hours to the start of events. There we observe the ordinariness and backwater poverty of the town. Jessica Biel is painted as a sincere and caring nurse. (Indeed, this is one of the best performances that Jessica Biel has given. She has mostly seemed a blandly pretty face out of her depth in films such as The Illusionist (2006), I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (2007) and Next (2007). Here she plays plain, without glamour makeup and determines to do some serious acting she even executive produces the film).
Pascal Laugier starts to generate considerable tension when the abduction of David begins. Jessica Biel is woken by noises in the house, initially seeing nothing, only to turn and find the maid (Eve Hallow) bound and gagged in the pantry. She races upstairs to David, just as the hooded figure of the Tall Man escapes, ending in an intensive chase as she struggles to get aboard the Tall Mans van, even being dragged along behind it, being attacked by the Tall Mans dog and made a prisoner, before getting free. Up until this point, Pascal Laugier has done a fine job letting us believe that we are seeing a film where a small town is plagued by a mysterious, possibly even supernatural figure known as The Tall Man who abducts their children, and that Jessica Biels son is the latest to be abducted. However, it is important to know that everything you initially think is happening in the film and all the directions that our sympathies are being drawn is in fact blatant misdirection.
[PLOT SPOILERS] Things start to get strange when Jessica Biel is brought back to the diner. As she is tended, it becomes apparent that the townspeople are engaged in a conspiracy of some type. She makes an escape and follows the trail to a disused mine where David is being held to encounter The Tall Man who happens to be a woman (Colleen Wheeler). In the first of the films head-spinning turns, we see that David is now referring to Wheeler as his mother. As she returns home with David, there are constant hints and suggestions of something sinister happening Jodelle Ferlands mute teenager warning Jessica Biel that Eve Hallow called Him and we then seeing Hallow in the kitchen with David and producing a syringe, Biel then telling Hallow Jenny knows, before in the next abrupt spin the police and FBI raiding the house and Biel being arrested, while it is found that Eve Hallow has hung herself. Even at this point, the film is still misleading us.
[PLOT SPOILERS] Eventually in the last quarter, the film reveals that all of this has been part of a scheme to abduct children and take them to better homes away from their impoverished and abusive smalltown environment. (The Tall Man is a film that is best not to dwell on the classist notion it makes about the inherent superiority of well-off families and the casual assumption that it is better to abduct children from underprivileged circumstances). It is during the police interrogation scenes that we see everything has been spun on its head Jessica Biel is part of a child abduction railroad; David is not her son but a boy she took from an abusive home environment; what we thought was his abduction by the Tall Man was in fact his birth mother trying to rescue him; indeed, there may not even be a Tall Man outside of Jodelle Ferlands voiceover description. The end the film goes out on with Jessica Biel accepting the role of the martyr to the cause and being regarded as the boogie person contains some striking writing.
You can see in these revelations that Pascal Laugier has done a tweak of audience perception of that goes way above and beyond the conceptual manipulations and left field surprise revelations that M. Night Shyamalan conducted in films like The Sixth Sense (1999) and The Village (2004) and the numerous films that sought to copy this. Everything from the image presented of Jessica Biel as a battered and suffering mother in the opening moments to the build up surrounding a boogeyman known as The Tall Man has been pulled over our eyes. There is a feeling of annoyance at the degree to which Pascal Laugier has misdirected us he did very similar games in the early sections of Martyrs. That said, you cannot deny the ingenuity of the head-spinning turns the film whips us through.
(Nominee for Best Original Screenplay at this sites Best of 2012 Awards).