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'The Tall Man' Review: Thriller Deftly Blends Shocks with Moral Quandries

'The Tall Man' Review: Thriller Deftly Blends Shocks with Moral Quandries

As a film critic for Big Hollywood and several other sites, I see an average of 150 movies a year – and there’s always more than a few I’m watching without any sense of hope for quality.

So when one of those movies – usually ones which either headed straight to DVD or debuted on VOD – actually turns out to be good, it’s a pleasant surprise.

Even better, the new movie “The Tall Man” is an outright stunner.

Granted, this movie – out in both theaters and VOD now en route to a Sept. 25 DVD debut – doesn’t seem to promise much, especially considering the only actor I could even recognize in the cast list was Jessica Biel. She’s built a decently busy career as the tough gal in movies like “The A-Team,” but no one actually races out to see a movie because she’s in it. That could change if she keeps picking smart, well-rounded material like this film.

Biel plays a nurse named Julia Denning who is trapped operating a health clinic in a tiny rural town whose main employer, a coal mine, closed six years ago. In that time, 18 of the town’s children have disappeared, with some seen being taken by a shrouded figure the townspeople call The Tall Man.

Julia doesn’t fully believe the tale of the Tall Man until one night when her home is broken into by the figure himself, leaving her assistant tied up and bloody on the kitchen floor. While Julia goes to help her, the Tall Man kidnaps her own son right out of his bed, and Julia races after them and the Tall Man’s creepy truck, managing to leap onto its back end for a ride that’s wilder than she – or any viewer – could possibly imagine.

To reveal more would be criminal, for writer-director Pascal Laugier has crafted a wildly inventive tale that explodes into five different directions before expertly weaving back together again at the end. Biel is a revelation, displaying far greater depth than she’s shown in the past, and the fact that the rest of the cast is played by people whose faces I didn’t even recognize turns out to be a great thing because they seemed like real people whose actions weren’t governed by the expectations of star personas.

As the film’s narrator says, it’s not easy to determine whether the story’s final revelations reflect a deeply moral set of actions, or if these final twists only compound the sense of sadness and dread that affect these forgotten peoples’lives. But how many movies make you think or debate their meanings and events at all these days?

For that alone, “The Tall Man” deserves a much wider audience than it’s likely to find. But those who discover it will find it haunting them and making them think about the shaky moral and ethical lines between good and evil long after the credits end. However, I believe that it lands squarely on the side of good.

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