I like to imagine the pitch meeting for "The Tall Man" as something like this: "It will be like 'Twin Peaks,' only absolutely terrible on every level." "Great!" say some wealthy people desperate for a tax loss. "Here are some briefcases of cash we swindled, just make them go away."
"The Tall Man" is set in a depressed former mill town in Washington State. They've got one wino, one crazy woman, one diner, one medical clinic, one emo girl who can't talk, and one eternally scowling federal agent who is allegedly on the trail of a serial kidnapper. As the ineloquent barrage of false news clips show us in the first of about three beginnings, a toddler disappears every two months, and the locals are beginning to believe the legend of a demonic, forest-dwelling "tall man."
Amid these unwashed and unemployed lives the statuesque Jessica Biel. As Julia Denning, the widow of the town's former doctor, she puts in a hard day's work, is kind to the locals at the diner, then goes home to play with her son. These domestic scenes are truly risible, as the boy essentially erupts in a "Gee, whiz!" to the thought of eating vegetables, and Mom and the nanny blush scandalously at a thimble's worth of booze. Considering a guy at the diner bluntly informed us that The Tall Man is due to strike soon, it should come as no surprise that Biel's moppety tot is about to get taken. Soon the nanny is tied up and bloody, and The Tall Man has taken the child.
After a chase that involves Biel making her eyes wide in close-up, jumping on a bread truck, and fighting hand-to-paw with a vicious pooch, she finds herself childless and with her townspeople at the diner. But they all seem to be... acting strangely.
Here's where the "Twin Peaks" similarities really kick in. On that show, the town's oddness was a function of an artistic perspective on small town American life. Here, it is a function of bad film-making telling a dumb story with an idiotic, impossible twist.
After it's revealed who the Tall Man is, there's still about an hour left in the film, more than enough time for another switcheroonie or an explanation of the Tall Man's shenanigans. However, that too is preposterous and unmotivated. The antagonist is given a monologue that is criminally stupid, and serves it up with all the flavor of wet cardboard. By this point, you simply won't care because the only reasonable reaction to this movie is to completely check out. None of the characters have any depth, and after the one chase scene all anyone does is mope and talk about their idiotic motivations. It isn't just dumb, it's dull.
It has to be a little frustrating to have a career like Jessica Biel's. After all the money and gift bags and adoration, there ultimately has to be the work, and the work, of late, has been awful. Her beauty on magazine covers will only float her career until she ends up back on TV, either plugging away in a lab as a forensics specialist or in a family drama, like her first gig "7th Heaven," only this time she'll be the mom. She'll have only herself to blame if she continues to agree to such horrible movies as "The Tall Man."
Have you ever had a conversation with a 7-year-old? That's what watching "The Tall Man" is like. I'd like to give its writer-director Pascal Laugier the benefit of the doubt and say this was an exercise in story improvisation, but I doubt it. That he set out to shoot this tale is evidence that he should never be allowed near a camera again.
Laugier's previous work is the much-discussed "Martyrs," another bad film. "Martyrs" got a lot of attention because of its relentless brutality; if you want to see two young women horribly, viciously tortured, this is the movie for you. The dialogue surrounding that film was all about the next-level violence, but beneath all the flayed skin there was a meaningless, idiotic story. "The Tall Man" is a replay of that frustration, but with none of the razzle-dazzle of young women crying in pain. I can't decide if that makes it better or worse.