For those of you too afraid to watch Martyrs, have I got a movie for you! The Tall Man (out on demand today and in theaters at the end of the month) is director Pascal Laugier's follow-up to that brutal 2008 French horror masterpiece, and it offers a lot of what I loved about that film without the, you know, crushing despair. Mind you it's crushing despair that's a lot of what takes Martyrs to the realm of masterpiece in my ever so humble opinion, but it's also what keeps me from generally recommending it to just any old stranger on the street. Martyrs is really hard to take, and even harder to shake.
The Tall Man... is not those things. What it is though is an offering of Laugier's strengths on a more friendly playing field. (Yes in comparison to Martyrs a "more friendly playing field" is a story about kidnapping and child murder, what of it?) What The Tall Man offers up without the crushing despair then is the delightful way that Laugier has with telling a story. His films unfold from unknown depths, the bottoms keep dropping out, and they're never about what you think they're about. He is always several steps ahead of you. He knows what you're thinking about his characters - how smart audiences are working things out - and he's already turned that on its head, only ten minutes from now. The Tall Man and Martyrs feel like four or five different films as they unfold, but in the end everything snaps right into place.
I can say without hesitation that I have never bought Jessica Biel in a film as much as I did here. I'd been sadly hesitant over my enthusiasm towards this film because of her (Martyrs demanded I be more excited about it then my distaste for her was allowing), but she's actually good here. Being the main character she's got to lead you through the twenty layers of seemingly flip-flopping storytelling while maintaining a consistency of character (it's only our point of view on things that changes as we find more things out, after all), and she does a fine job with it. They played to her strengths to be sure - if there's any actress in Hollywood today that I believe could hop right out of a flipped truck it's her. She's sturdy. But she and Laugier mine other facets of her personality and more than not I was impressed. Low expectations surpassed, good work!
I don't want to oversell the film. It's nowhere near as ambitious as Martyrs was - it doesn't use its deconstruction of structure itself to break you the viewer right down to nothing, too. But as far as telling a story we've seen a bunch in an entirely new way that kept me on edge and unsure where things were going the whole time, The Tall Man's a success. I hope that Laugier gets to keep telling things his way for a long time, I wanna keep watching.