Where Are the Children?
Leaving behind any trace of her eye-candy image, Jessica Biel delivers the performance of her career in The Tall Man. Pay attention, filmmakers, this gal can act! And she picked a gem of a thriller to showcase her acting chops -- one with a foreboding atmosphere, lots of suspense, and intriguing plot twists that keep us guessing about what’s happening to the children of a small mining town in the depths of economic ruin.
Biel (The Illusionist) plays Julia Denning, a nurse whose husband -- the town’s trusted doctor -- passed away before the story begins. While still mourning his death, Julia enjoys spending as much time as possible with David (Jakob Davies), her darling son, and tries to offer the townspeople limited medical assistance. Nothing comes easy in this depressed environment, but the biggest crisis involves the way children seem to be disappearing one by one. Many believe the legend that a mysterious “tall man” is abducting each child, and everyone fears what he might be doing to them.
After David goes missing, Julia becomes even more deeply involved in this horrific mystery. But why are the townspeople turning on her? Is the legendary “tall man” real? If so, could he be Lieutenant Dodd (Stephen McHattie), Sheriff Chestnut (William B. Davis), a disgruntled citizen, or some supernatural entity? And what motivates these terrifying child abductions? Because saying anything more about the plot would spoil this movie for prospective viewers, I’ll simply admit being completely surprised at the answers to these questions. All during the film, I came up with various theories -- and every one of them turned out to be wrong. Fortunately, I love it when that happens!
It’s not often a mystery/thriller evokes altruistic feelings as well as uncertainty about right and wrong, but this one does. Of course, we usually feel the danger thrust upon a protagonist and want him/her to end up unharmed. Biel definitely makes us feel like that most of the time here. Using worried facial expressions and dramatic body language, she projects just the right image of a woman struggling through a horrendous situation. Biel appears in almost every scene, so the movie succeeds or fails depending on her performance, which is superb.
Writer/director Pascal Laugier (Martyrs) shows skill in maintaining the right pace for an unusual mystery like this, and he wisely relies on Kamal Kerkaoui’s (Dress To Kill) atmospheric cinematography and Todd Bayanton’s intriguing background music to enhance the film’s thrill factor. Plus, I think Jean-Andre Carriere’s (Eye of the Beholder) down-to-earth production design helps make strange things come across as more believable.
In addition to McHattie (Immortals) and Davis (The X-Files), cast members like Samantha Ferris (Shattered), Eve Harlow (Juno) and Jodelle Ferland (Mermaid) also provide Biel with excellent support. Their characters seem real, and Ferland’s sensitive narration adds a great deal to the flow of the story.
While growing up, one of my favorite radio shows was “I Love a Mystery.” The Tall Man takes me back to those wonderful mysteries I tried unsuccessfully to solve -- yet waited eagerly to hear every week.
(Released by Image Entertainment and rated “R” for violence and terror, and for language.)
For more information about this film, go to the Internet Movie Data Base or Rotten Tomatoes website.