A quiet and remote location, a wintry cold, frightened townspeople — “The Tall Man” has the makings of a classic thriller. And for a while, this movie from Canadian director Pascal Laugier has a chilly, compellingly weird atmosphere.
But then Laugier allows the crux of the mystery to grow larger than life. The movie itself draws on too long, and eventually goes past at least two potential endings and heads right into the ridiculous.
Jessica Biel, also the co-executive producer, plays Julia Denning, a nurse in a small mountain town that’s apparently been decimated by economic collapse. If this were, say, “Psycho,” someone might comment that they moved the highway, and no one comes through anymore.
But people do leave — specifically, the children. Abductions have gone on for years. The townspeople believe that a shadowy figure known as the Tall Man takes the kids, who are never heard from again. A few have even claimed to see him firsthand and lived to tell the tale. But no one knows for sure.
Now Julia’s son is the latest to be abducted without a trace. She’s no stranger to catastrophe. Her husband died in an accident, which still seems to be shrouded in mystery. Her only friends are a young mute girl and the town’s sole Goth chick.
As strange behavior seems to multiply, David Lynch-style, among the diner patrons, junkyard denizens and distraught housewives, it’s clear Julia’s view on these cases is clouded. But how much, and by what — or by whom — are the real questions.
“The Tall Man” has more than a passing resemblance to an “X-Files” episode, so it’s handy that character actor William B. Davis, aka the infamous Smoking Man from “The X-Files,” is on hand to play a conspiracy-minded sheriff. Even so, one must apply a Rule of Bad Movie Decisions to this film: With so many abductions, why do these people stay in town? Surely there’s an equally depressing, downtrodden burg nearby where children aren’t being abducted?
Well, if they are going to stay, at least they have a nurse who looks like Jessica Biel. As an actress, Biel has yet to convince people she can do more than sexy action roles or eye-candy parts. If they need proof, exhibits A and B are “The Illusionist” and “Home of the Brave.”
It’s laudable that Biel is co-producing her projects, and working with idiosyncratic filmmakers like Laugier. But “The Tall Man” is ultimately a long mess.
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