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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Tall Man (Blu-ray)
The Tall Man (Blu-ray)
Image // R // September 25, 2012 // Region A
List Price: $29.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted September 27, 2012 | E-mail the Author
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The sleepy Washington town of Cold Rock is in its death throes, consumed by crushing poverty and failure ever since the mine closed. As disheartening as it is to see a once-proud town crumble into ruin, that pales in
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comparison to the tragedy that quickly follows. The children of Cold Rock, one by one, are vanishing. Many of the locals blame this rash of abductions on 'The Tall Man', and urban myth or otherwise, the complete lack of evidence means it's as good a theory as any. If Julia Denning (Jessica Biel) -- the closest thing this decaying town has to a doctor -- had been rolling her eyes, she stopped when someone...or something...spirited little David (Jakob Davies) away from her home. She frantically chases after that shadowy figure, allowing herself to scraped across the asphalt as a rusty brick of a van speeds away...gnawed on by a feral attack dog lurking inside...refusing to relent no matter how badly bleeding, battered, and broken she becomes.

On its surface, The Tall Man might read like some mash-up of Taken and whatever torture-porn flavor-of-the-week you feel like filling into the next blank. Mysterious abductor with shadowy motives. Pretty heroine relentlessly tormented and tortured. A helpless young child in danger. Sure, sure, it all sounds very straightforward and awfully lazy, and for the first...I dunno, forty minutes...The Tall Man is absolutely marching head-on in that direction. Then, all of a sudden, it pivots on its heel. The Tall Man is not the movie it makes itself out to be. It's a frustrating film to review because almost everything I want to say requires revealing more than I should. Even saying that, ultimately, The Tall Man is not a horror movie -- that, despite the torment that Julia is forced to endure, it is no way resembles the prolonged, visceral agony of writer/director Pascal Laugier's Martyrs -- is likely giving away too much.

The Tall Man refuses to play it safe. It doesn't neatly fit under any single genre heading. Tossing the traditional three-act structure aside, there's a structural shift I never saw coming. There are several key twists, gingerly distributed throughout the film rather than reserved for the very end. The Tall Man toys with perception and perspective, more than once calling everything that's been established into question without ever being cheap or manipulative. Nothing's reduced to the
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polar simplicity of black and white. It poses difficult moral questions that resist any easy answers. Jessica Biel skillfully conveys Julia's anguish and steely determination, making for what's likely the most accomplished performance of hers I've seen.

It's just...ack. Despite a fairly normal runtime of 105 minutes or so, The Tall Man is such a glacially placed slog that it feels twice that long. There's a jaw-dropping tonal shift around halfway through that should revitalize the entire movie, but it instead fails to really capitalize on that. This is Pascal Laugier's first screenplay in English, and though the dialogue is certainly competent, it generally lacks any spark. Despite the presence of such familiar faces as Samantha Ferris, Stephen McHattie, and William B. Davis, too many of the other supporting players struggle to deliver their lines convincingly. Laugier devotes much of the early stretch of the film to establishing mood and atmosphere, but the setting of Cold Rock never really feels as if it's a character in its own right. The community spirit that's supposed to define one stretch of the film flops and flounders. There are plenty of archetypes but too few personalities on display. The Tall Man never really figures out how to juggle its cast, shoving a lot of them off the board for such long periods of time that their inevitable returns leave little impact. A couple of "wait...what?" turns in the plot are clumsily established. Heavily drawing on night exteriors, the cinematography is murky and underlit. I really do appreciate what The Tall Man is trying to accomplish, but this ambitious genre experiment misses just about every conceivable mark, and it's a considerable step down from Laugier's more polished, more assured Martyrs. Rent It.

For a film that's fiercely unconventional in so many ways, The Tall Man's presentation on Blu-ray is awfully routine. Its gloomy tone is reflected in an expectedly dour, overcast palette. Some colors look terrific despite being so subdued, though, such as the painterly hues of its British Columbian exteriors. Contrast tends to be flat and lifeless, and although the level of detail is unmistakeably HD, it rarely manages to impress. The image overall is softer and muddier than I'd expect for a movie that just had its theatrical premiere a few short weeks ago. The Tall Man just has that RED One look to it, and I can't say I'm all that much of a fan.

The Tall Man arrives on a single-layer Blu-ray disc at its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1. It's been encoded with VC-1, which...wow, is that still a thing?

Underwhelming though The Tall Man's visuals may be, its six-channel, 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack leaves little room for complaint. The sound design makes aggressive use of the surround channels. One
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claustrophobic sequence centered around a dumb waiter in particular is heightened as unnerving creaks slowly encircle the soundscape. Emphasis has been intensely placed on atmospherics and the discrete placement of sounds, seizing full advantage of every channel at its fingertips. Todd Bryanton's score is reproduced with spectacular clarity as well. Bass response is substantial throughout, and dialogue remains clean, clear, and effectively balanced in the mix. A first rate effort in every respect.

There are no dubs, commentaries, or alternate mixes. Subtitles are limited to English (SDH) and Spanish.

  • Deleted Scene (4 min.; HD): The Tall Man's sole deleted scene is, unexpectedly, another frenzied struggle between Julia and her hooded tormentor.

  • Visual Concepts (HD): A high resolution still gallery offers a look at ten pieces of conceptual artwork.

  • Trailer (2 min.; HD): Last up is a high-def trailer.

The Tall Man comes packaged in a foil slipcover.

The Final Word
I respect The Tall Man's disinterest in convention. I admire the way it repeatedly and effectively throws everything that's been established into question. At the end of the day, though, The Tall Man seems like a handful of potentially compelling ideas in search of a movie to string them all together. Its pace is turgid, the performances are wildly uneven, dialogue and characterization are anemic at best, the cinematography is flat and muddy, and its scattershot focus shrugs off any sort of emotional investment. I appreciate that The Tall Man aims to do something different rather than mindlessly rehash more of the same, but it's a failed experiment. Rent It.
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