This week in movies you missed: If you found this 2012 thriller randomly on Netflix Instant, you'd probably assume it was a standard vehicle for Jessica Biel. You'd be wrong: The Tall Man isn't standard anything.
What You Missed
One by one, children have been disappearing from the dying Washington mining town of Cold Rock. Eighteen are gone so far, and police have no leads. For the townspeople, the abductor has become a quasi-mythical figure: the "Tall Man."
Biel plays nurse Julia Denning, who staffs Cold Rock's rudimentary health clinic. When a woman comes in with her teenage daughter — pregnant by her mother's boyfriend and about to give birth — Julia does what she can for them. She coaxes the teen's selectively mute sister (Jodelle Ferland) to talk.
Julia does her best for her small child at home, too, sheltering him from the realities of life in Cold Rock. Then, one night, a black-dressed abductor appears on her doorstep.
Why You Missed It
According to Box Office Mojo, this French-Canadian film never played in the U.S. As already noted, it's now on Netflix Instant.
Should You Keep Missing It?
French writer-director Pascal Laugier is known to horror fans as the guy behind Martyrs, a film reputedly as graphic as it is thought provoking (I'm still working up courage to see it). The Tall Man, however, is neither gory nor particularly scary.
What it is is twisty, unsettling and bizarre. It's rare that a movie completely fools me about what kind of movie it is, but The Tall Man did.
The opening is about as clichéd as they come: We have an in medias res structure where something awful has happened, but we don't yet know why or how. We have a stilted voiceover explaining stuff. We have shots of a "Twin Peaks"-esque landscape (actually British Columbia). For extra nerd points, we have a sheriff played by William B. Davis, aka the Cigarette Smoking Man from "The X-Files."
And we have our protagonist, Julia, struggling nobly to make Cold Rock a better place. As she chases the abductor, however, things take a turn for the strange and keep turning.
By the end, it all makes sense again — not necessarily the most plausible sense. But Laugier's design is clear enough that you may find yourself going back to reinterpret early scenes in the film, then arguing about its deeper implications. This guy could give M. Night Shyamalan a lesson or two.
The wooded setting is creepy and atmospheric, and the Canadian actors are excellent. Biel comes off a little wooden at first, but as her character's motivations unfold, her performance seems more and more adept and appropriate. Not bad for somebody who was on "Seventh Heaven."
Verdict: This is one of those love-it-or-hate-it films, and quite a few critics on Rotten Tomatoes hated it. If you're looking for a simple, effective horror flick or thriller, keep browsing. I love movie curveballs, though, and this one satisfied.
In Theaters This Week
The minions, beloved by all children, return in Despicable Me 2. Johnny Depp puts on yet another set of funky headgear for The Lone Ranger.
Attention Joss Whedon fanatics: His version of Much Ado About Nothing, with Wesley and Fred playing Benedick and Beatrice, is at the Savoy. It should show up at the Roxy in a week or two.
PLUS: On Thursday, July 11, at 7 p.m., catch a special screening of From Up on Poppy Hill at Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center in Burlington, courtesy of MSL and the Burlington Film Society.
The animated, family-friendly film, from Japan's renowned Studio Ghibli, is a Movie You Missed for the Burlington area. The awesome Gillian Anderson is in the voice cast. More info here.
On Video This Week
Eugene Jarecki's The House I Live In.