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The Tall Man Movie Review – Horror … Or Philosophy?

The Tall Man Movie Review – Horror … Or Philosophy?

‘The Tall Man’ (2012) was directed by Pascal Laugier, and performed only moderately well with audiences and critics upon its release. In this The Tall Man movie review, I discuss the genre conventions used by the director, as well as ways he short-circuits trusted tropes to ask some deeper existential questions.

This video’s show notes appear below the full transcript below.

‘The Tall Man’ is both a thriller and a mystery film. Oh, with a few meaty horror elements thrown in for good measure.

The Tall Man Movie Review – The Movie Affect

Can the horror movie genre – with all its intricacies – be used to ask serious questions about the human condition?

Hello, and welcome to The Movie Affect. Today, I’m going to be talking about Pascal Laugier’s 2012 movie, ‘The Tall Man’. Now some of you might recognize Laugier’s name, he directed a French horror movie in 2008 called ‘Martyrs‘. I found ‘Martyrs’ to be a film that was almost impossible to sit through from start to end – an extremely intense film-viewing experience.

Laugier also directed a more recent horror movie – 2018’s ‘Incident in a Ghostland’. NOT EXACTLY AN EASY WATCH EITHER. Don’t worry though, we’ll be returning to Laugier’s other films in a future episode of The Movie Affect. Today, though, let’s put the spotlight on 2012’s ‘The Tall Man’, a film which I believe was largely misunderstood by film critics and viewers alike.

Pascal Laugier has been lumped in with a group of French directors who have been coined the New Extreme Wave of French cinema. And if you’ve seen ‘Martyrs’ you’ll understand why that’s the case. Laugier, though, clearly is a genre director. He loves picking up on multiple genres and pulling those elements into his films.

The use of image to suggest subtext

Interesting cinematography. Look at how the action here has been obscured through the misted glass of the door that we’re looking through. Now really, for me, this is why film is the greatest living art-form. To start with, I believe it reaches more people on the planet than any other art-form. Film viewers, as a result of the universality of the medium, are implicitly trained and knowledgeable about the visual and narrative language – the lingui-franca, if you will – of the cinematic medium.

So from the outset, the filmmakers frame this story as a mystery. It’s this poor, derelict town being terrorized by an ominous figure who’s kidnapping children in the middle of the night. What’s interesting about the film is, about half way through, maybe even a little earlier than that, Laugier performs a switch.

We’re given a point of view, we’re given a protagonist in the film, a would-be heroine that we believe is fighting for the good of this town. And suddenly… everything’s flipped on its head. When you study film carefully, you’ll find that this is a mechanism employed very, very often in cinematic storytelling, particularly in more modern movies, which tend to be playing more with narrative structure and non-linear storytelling.

The melancholy setting of this film befits its very somber themes.

So here’s a little example of the use of camera motion, music and a very subtle scene transition, all used to really nail that melancholy that’s so central to the atmosphere of this film.

There are frightening moments in this film. Once again, I wouldn’t call it an out-and-out horror movie, but it certainly has some really disturbing moments, and that’s really a signature of Laugier’s film-making style.

A Powerful Cinematic Crescendo

Now film, for me, is all about emotion. Any good film needs to have an emotional center, a climax, a fulcrum, if you will. And that should be an almost overwhelming experience, anaffective experience for the viewer. When they come out of that theater, when the credits of that film roll, the viewer should be changed from when they went in before.

They should feel like… they’ve had an experience that leaves them a slightly different person. That’s when I know I’ve seen a good film. And just imagine how transformative experiences like that can be for people at certain moments in their lives. This is why I believe film as a medium has such tremendous therapeutic and healing potential.

Back to ‘The Tall Man’. Here’s a film with a beautiful emotional center. Take a look at this scene, and consider for a moment, the staging, the action that’s been choreographed here. And just think about all those elements working together and the effect that they produce. I can’t think of another medium which can create such a visceral emotional moment.

In particular, there, pay attention to the way the camera follows the action, leads the action, infact, out of the house and into the vehicle which starts moving. Think just for a moment about how a shot like that – which appears to be a single continuous take – might have been constructed and orchestrated. It’s really a quite brilliant piece of technical film-making.

The ambience and night-time scenes create a powerful sense of unease

‘The Tall Man’ is what I call a big idea movie. At its core, the filmmakers are trying to ask a very serious, a very profound question about human nature.

Look at where the camera comes to rest, and how that character is framed. Here the director is really tapping, I think, into our collective human memory, if you will. The myths, the legends, the archetypes, the stories that have been become suffused into our collective consciousness as a species.

And I think, here, he frames the character in a very moving way, to suggest to us the possibility that perhaps she could be a savior for the victims in this story.

To be clear, I don’t think Laugier’s trying to offer any answers, here. He’s merely using the film medium, and this particular story, to ask a very specific question, and to really make us think about the implications of that question. Nay, not just think about the implications, but to feel what the potential implications might be.

And really, in the realm of possible motives an artist could have for producing a piece of work… what motive could possibly be more beautiful than that?

There is an extended-length version of this film analysis video. Please contact me, if you’re interested in seeing it.

Show notes from this The Tall Man movie review:

Martyrs (2008)

Incident In A Ghostland (2018)

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