Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. I got to interview Jessica Biel over the phone! Who wants to touch my ear? But in all seriousness, this was an extremely fun interview about an extremely terrifying film. Much has been said about MARTYRS, Pascal Laugier’s harrowing film that leaves the viewer scarred and scared for weeks after viewing. Laugier’s follow up is THE TALL MAN, an equally terrifying and fascinating film. Jessica Biel is no stranger to horror having taken on Leatherface in the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE remake. Here Biel plays Julia Denning, a veterinarian in a small town that has been plagued by a mysterious kidnapper dubbed the Tall Man. But that is just the tip of the iceberg of this story. Here’s what Ms. Biel had to say about the film…
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Hey, Jessica!
JESSICA BIEL (JB): Hi Mark!
BUG: Let’s talk about THE TALL MAN, so I was wondering…
JB: Yes. Have you seen the film?
BUG: I have. I saw it just a couple of days ago and it’s really good. It really has a lot of twists and turns and it really does play with your expectations a lot during the entire thing.
JB: Cool. Yeah. I like it. I think it’s cool. I’m really not sure how much I should say, so the film… The film is about a woman who initially her child is taken from her and she sees this happening, so she goes after this person or this thing that has taken her child and as the story moves along you start to realize there’s a lot more going on and that this woman has quite an obsession about saving the world’s children in a very macro-sense and that maybe she’s more involved in this taking than you originally think.
BUG: Yeah, are you a mother yourself?
JB: I’m not yet.
BUG: Okay, I was just wondering. This would probably have to be the worst fear of anyone really, just to have their child taken away. How did you get into that place to feel all of that wide range of emotions that you go through in this whole movie?
JB: That’s a good question. (Laughs) I mean I think the idea is to somehow bring something from your own life in there, so make it real for you. Since I don’t have a child of my own, it’s someone close to you or a sibling or a partner, something that’s been taken from you that would really be similar to the feeling of like if a child was taken. So I think you start off there and then with the lie that this woman is living, that dichotomy that she is living, that’s really where the fear comes in. What you and I know that, that the audience and your readers don’t know yet is that if she gets caught doing whatever she is doing, it’s like the end of her mission. So that’s where her fear comes in and the idea that she sort of knows who he is after, but… (Laughs) It’s hard to talk about.
BUG: No, I totally understand. It’s really hard, because you don’t want to reveal any of the spoilers in the film. This is definitely a film that is best taken without knowing anything about it. So how have other people responded to the film having seen it? Have you gotten any response yet?
JB: I have. I mean some people have said that they do sympathize with her and some people say that they are so disturbed by this movie, but that they are really intrigued, but it’s so messed up and I think that’s sort of the questions that we wanted to leave the audience with, is “Morally, how do you feel about this? Morally…” because our government and our bureaucracy and our politicians, because it is so corrupt and you really can’t get a lot done if you go through the right channels. You kind of have to go renegade rogue on your own and that’s basically what this woman is doing. Is it better? What’s better? Is it moral? I don’t know, what do you think? Like that’s kind of how we are leaving you and I feel like that’s what people are feeling after it’s over. They are feeling a range of emotions from “Oh my God, I hate her” to “I get it” to “This is so disturbing and awful,” because you’re right, this is somebody’s nightmare.
BUG: In my day job I work as a therapist and I work with the foster care system and I know how infuriating it can be sometimes for parents just trying to get children and trying to deal with a lot of the things that are gong on in the world and just all of the legal hassles and everything, so it’s really interesting to see a film that kind of deals with all of that in a really interesting, creative and horrific way.
JB: Oh cool then, I’m so glad you think that. Thank you.
BUG: Yeah, and it’s definitely a film that you can’t help but talk about after you watch it, because it does have some really powerful scenes. There’s a scene about half an hour into the film that’s basically there are no lines, it’s basically just a giant action scene. How did you approach that? Or were you in that scene? Was it a double?
JB: Are you talking about all the stuff through the forest?
BUG: Yeah, like the chase scene with the truck and everything. There’s so much physical stuff going on there.
JB: Right. That was definitely mainly me. I did have a double for the dragging behind the truck stuff. That was a tricky sequence, because it’s just basically me, like “How do we keep this interesting? How do we keep this real? How do we keep this scary, but yet genuine.” Julia [her character in the film] had to react in a way that Julia would react knowing what she is doing, not knowing what the audience knows, but we were constantly walking that tight line of that situation, which was really hard and it was a brutal situation for her to be in emotionally, so then of course add on all of that pressure and stress of trying to constantly be in that state of being freaked out. It was very hard, but Pascal [Laugier] just beat it out or me basically.
BUG: Very cool. Well you seem to be… this is a much smaller film than something like TOTAL RECALL. Is there a preference for you? Do you feel like you want to balance it out with smaller films compared to the larger blockbusters that you’re often associated with?
JB: It’s really a case by case basis, but I think it’s all about having a good balance of both. Being in the larger big budget studio movies that are filmed all over the world with huge releases, that kind of interaction and awareness gets you to make those smaller films that you love. So it really works hand in hand and you can’t disregard either one.
BUG: Yeah, well you’ve done a couple of scary films that I consider to be horror. Do you like that type of movie? I’ve talked to some actors who act in those movies and they can’t stand them. How do you feel about it?
JB: (Laughs) If I couldn’t stand them, I would not do them. I really wouldn’t. I actually love them. I really love thrillers and love horror films. I love the thrills of being scared It’s really fun for me to experience that thrill of emotion in a safe place, which I think is why I like all of this brutal beat down, get covered in mud and blood and get messed up and fucked up… Something about that, because it’s a safe environment. You can experience that and test it and sample it out, but then you’re safe.
BUG: And you are usually very physical in your films, but in this one you really do get pretty messed up pretty badly. Were there a lot of makeup effects? How was that wearing all of that blood and mud and other stuff?
JB: It’s really sticky. More than anything it was just really sticky. You know, your hair is stuck to your face and the blood is everywhere. I have a great photograph of myself covered in blood and reading like a veggie news magazine. (Laughs) Which is pretty funny, because it’s just bizarre looking, but I mean I had an eye piece on in this film… It was cool. I love getting all messed up for movies, it’s fun to not be glamorous. It’s fun to not have to worry about hair and makeup and to be really plain. It’s great to feel like it’s okay to be dirty, because a lot of the time it’s like everything has to be pristine and your wardrobe and your hair… You know, that kind of thing.
BUG: So what do you have coming up next? You have TOTAL RECALL coming out and what else do we have to look forward to see you in?
JB: There’s TOTAL RECALL, we have…DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA, PLAYING THE FIELD. HITCHCOCK, and EMANUEL AND THE TRUTH ABOUT FISHES.
BUG: Wow. Sounds like you’re busy, so you’re doing the HITCHCOCK film? Is that correct?
BUG: So are you filming that at the moment?
JB: We finished actually.
BUG: Oh great, so is there anything you can tell us about that film?
JB: It’s a little glimpse of the life before Alfred and Alma Hitchcock during the time where he’s in preproduction and the making of PSYCHO and how that film changed cinema forever and how his experience on that film sort or reestablished his connection with his wife and the incredibly interesting relationship that he had with all of his actors and actresses and it’s like a slice of life. I think it’s going to be really cool.
BUG: Very cool. Well I can’t wait to see that and you know I really want to tell everyone about THE TALL MAN. I think it is a really fantastic film and you did a fantastic job in it. Congratulations.
JB: Thank you so much. Please tell all of your friends.
BUG: I most definitely will.
JB: Thanks, Mark. Bye.
BUG: THE TALL MAN is available now On Demand and will be in theaters August 31st! Check out my review for the film below!
THE TALL MAN (2012)Directed by Pascal Laugier
Written by Pascal Laugier
Starring Jessica Biel, Jodelle Ferland, Stephen McHattie, Jakob Davies, William B. Davis, Samantha Ferris, Katherine Ramdeen
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I think a lot of people in the world today don’t like it when they don’t know what’s going on when it comes to film. When a director gets the better of a viewer and is successfully able to pull the wool over the eyes of them, more often than not, I think the most common reaction is that of anger and frustration. Shortly thereafter, the words, “This sucks!” bellows out from that person’s lips, mostly because if they discredit the film, then they can’t admit that it got the better of them. I go to films because I want so desperately to see things I have never seen before. When a film comes along and I can honestly say while watching it that I have absolutely no idea how it’s going to end up…man, there is no better feeling in the world for me than that feeling. This feeling is so cherished for me mostly because I’ve seen so many films (particularly horror films) in which I can call the story beat for beat, that when a horror film comes along and truly challenges my expectations, I instantly fall in love with it. THE TALL MAN is such a film.
Having seen the film twice now, once having absolutely no prior knowledge of what to expect and a second time with a group of people who knew nothing about it, I am truly impressed at how the film holds up as an initial shocking experience as well as one that continues to thrill even after one knows the ending. Director Pascal Laugier who blew my socks off with MARTYRS, does so again by toying with viewer expectation like a kitten does a ball of yarn. Laugier knows what the audience expects and zigs when zags are expected, in doing so, the audience knows not where things will end up, leaving them in a constant state of discomfort. Modern audiences hate that and I’m sure there will be plenty of folks out there who dislike this film as well, but I love it because of that fact.
On top of that, Pascal is playing with one of cinema’s taboo subjects; that is, the importance of family. Much of horror is about returning to the status quo. The monster is ultimately defeated. The serial killer is destroyed. Whatever beast or baddie has come in and mussed up the ant hill is gone and the dust settles, giving the audience a sense that despite the horrific events, things are going to be ok. The TALL MAN is not that movie. While family has always been a constant, rock solid concept in film, here it challenges that notion. Without getting too far into spoiler territory (a previous review here on AICN did that, if you’re looking for spoilers), Laugier suggests that maybe being with one’s family isn’t the best case scenario and again, that is going to be a tough pill for some to swallow.
THE TALL MAN is about an urban legend made real. The children of a poor mining town are going missing without a trace. Police are baffled. Townsfolk are scared. And the local vet Julia (Jessica Biel) seems to be the only strong person left among them as shown in the opening scene as she is the only person qualified in the town to oversee a young girl giving birth in secret. Fearing scrutiny from the townsfolk and possibly another abduction by the Tall Man (which the more superstitious of the townies have dubbed the abductor), Julia agrees to keep the info about the baby to herself. Soon, Julia returns to her own home to visit with her own child. The two share a loving relationship as seen through some endearing moments of play between Biel and the young actor David (played by DIARY OF A WIMPY KID’s Jakob Davies). But when the lights go out, Julia is awakened by a crash in the night and encounters the Tall Man in her house with David in tow about to disappear into the night.
What looks to be a child abduction tale turns out to be anything but. When I was trying to explain this to my friends without giving too much away, I told them that it is one of the most unconventional horror films I’ve ever seen. But then again, because of the social commentary going on in this film, it’s also hard to categorize this as a horror film at all. There are definitely moments of sheer terror as the separation between a person and their child is one of the most tragic occurrences imaginable, but what it truly shocking is the reason for the disappearances and how this film peels away layer upon layer, slapping aside all assumptions one might have as clues are dropped.
Jessica Biel with her performance in this film has leapt from just another beautiful actress to one with definite balls after her brave portrayal of Julia in this film. Not only is she put through hell physically in this film, but her arc is complex and shatters all expectations one might have of her going in. Additional strong performances are offered up by PONTYPOOL’s Stephen McHattie, X-FILES Smoking Man William B. Davis, and SILENT HILL’s little girl Jodelle Ferdland. In a film which requires so many emotions being shredded and toyed with, the whole cast does a fantastic job at conveying them.
As with MARTYRS before it which was without a doubt one of the most shocking films in the last twenty years, THE TALL MAN opens with an extremely close viewpoint then gradually throughout the film pulls back revealing a much bigger world than what one first expects. Just as MARTYRS evolved before your eyes from a film about madness and inner demons to one of existential torture and transcending beyond what the sane mind can truly withstand, THE TALL MAN morphs and evolves as the running time speeds by. Though I won’t reveal the twists and turns here, I will say that the multiple times the story pulled the rug from under me got me big time. I’m not afraid to admit this film got the better of me and I love it for doing so. If you’re the type of person who gets pissed at being surprised, I know right now that THE TALL MAN just won’t be for you. But if you go to a film to be shocked, to be manipulated, to be surprised, THE TALL MAN delivers all of that in spades.
See ya Friday for our regular AICN HORROR column!
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/reviewer/co-editor of AICN Comics for over ten years. He has written comics such as MUSCLES & FIGHTS, MUSCLES & FRIGHTS, VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, WONDERLAND ANNUAL 2010 & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND & has co-written their first ever comic book LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in late 2012 as an 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark has just announced his new comic book miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment to be released March-August 2012. Also look for Mark's exciting arc on GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-80 which begins in August 2012.
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