Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs is perhaps one of the most divisive horror films of the young decade. Many (myself included) consider it a visceral, visionary work that raised the bar not only for horror cinema, but cinema as a whole. Others, however, dismissed it as overwrought, misogynistic torture porn – violence for violence’s sake, wrapped in pretense and symbolism. Whether you consider it genius or rubbish, one thing is certain; Martyrs is a film that, once seen, is near impossible to forget.
It’s a hard act to follow, indeed, but with his latest feature – the deeply engrossing thriller, The Tall Man – Laugier manages to construct a tale that, while not nearly as shocking or violent as its predecessor, still tackles issues and situations that are no less disturbing and thought-provoking.
Welcome to Cold Rock, Washington; a once-thriving mining community turned virtual ghost town since the closure of its mine several years back. Since then, the impoverished residents of Cold Rock have had to endure both financial and emotional hardship, the latter coming at the hands of a mythical abductor of children known only as The Tall Man, who has claimed several of the town’s children despite the vigilance of both Cold Rock’s Sheriff Chestnut (X-Files vet, Davis) and omnipresent FBI investigator, Agent Dodd (McHattie).
Many claim to have seen The Tall Man, including Jenny (Silent Hill’s Jodelle Ferland); an emotionally traumatized, mute adolescent who, like many of the town’s children, has grown up under less than ideal circumstances. Raised by a single mother whose drunken lout of a boyfriend has impregnated Jenny’s older sister, Jenny imagines life beyond Cold Rock, and even fantasizes about The Tall Man coming for her, certain that the fate he offers can be no worse than the life she endures now.
The one beacon of hope in this rapidly deteriorating community is Julia (Biel, who turns in what is easily the best performance of her career, here) – a nurse who is desperately trying to fill the shoes of her recently deceased doctor/husband, who the community held in high regard. Julia does what she can for the people of Cold Rock, but, as with the case of Jenny’s pregnant sister, it hardly ever seems enough, as the residents seem resigned to their fate, oftentimes exacerbating it through drug, drink, and debauchery. Julia, however, doesn’t put much stock in the existence of The Tall Man, considering him little more than a fabrication brought on by the townsfolk’s understandable frustration and fear. That is, of course, until she awakens to a shadowy figure swathed in black cradling her son, David (Davies) in his arms. As The Tall Man absconds with her child, Julia gives chase, ultimately realizing a terrible truth about the people of Cold Rock, and the respective fates of their children.
The first thing I have to impress upon prospective viewers of The Tall Man is that this is not a traditional horror film. Much as he did with Martyrs, Laugier borrows bits and bobs from the genre, but doesn’t necessarily make a horror film so much as a thriller/morality play with horror underpinnings. It’s a dreamy, dark, and distressing film that touches upon some uncomfortable subjects, with thematic nods to everything from Don’t Look Now to Gone Baby, Gone, making it a film that’s as hard to categorize as it is to forget. It’s also a film that’s filled with so many twists and turns that I really can’t say much else lest I risk spoiling the surprises!
The Tall Man comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Image Entertainment, and features an absolutely flawless transfer that will give even the best BD’s in your collection a run for their money. This is as crisp and clean as they come, with a jaw-dropping level of detail. One can see virtually every pore, crease, and blemish on Biel’s au natural face (she doffs her makeup for the role, and is still pretty much one of the most gorgeous creatures on the planet). Colors, while subdued, are well-replicated, and the deep, true blacks lend the picture an impressive sense of depth and dimension. The fine image is supported by an immersive and smartly mixed 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track that sports clear dialogue, deep, droning bass, and well-placed atmospheric effects and directional cues that work all corners of the room.
Extras are, unfortunately, somewhat scant, here, with only a single deleted scene (HD), a gallery of concept paintings (HD), and the trailers for this film as well as the trailer for Image’s Lovely Molly (both presented in HD). I would have loved a commentary track, or a making of doc like the excellent one included on the DVD of Martyrs, but, sadly, we get nothing of any substance this go around.
The Tall Man is going to divide audiences. While the events and ideas presented are horrific, the film, itself, is more of a thriller that, at times, borders on high concept drama, and the much publicized violence and gore of Martyrs is nowhere to be seen here. Still, don’t let the lack of blood fool you; Laugier’s tale is a dark and intimately terrifying one that will resonate with viewers – especially those with children – and the payoff is sure to generate much post-film discussion and self-examination. Laugier may not be pushing boundaries, here, but, to me, he’s doing something much more important; he’s showing growth, as both a director and a storyteller, and I, for one, simply cannot wait to see where he takes us next. Very highly recommended.