Archive for Stephen McHattie

THE TALL MAN (2012)

Posted in 2012, Controverisal Films, Family Secrets, Indie Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Mystery, Plot Twists, Scares!, Surprises!, Suspense, Twist Endings, Twisted with tags , , , , , , , , on September 4, 2012 by knifefighter

THE TALL MAN
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

When I first heard about the movie THE TALL MAN, I thought it was another sequel in the PHANTASM series. For those who aren’t fans, the Tall Man is the main villain of that franchise. But this new movie has nothing to do with PHANTASM. So I thought, based on the title and the movie poster (with star Jessica Biel prominently displayed), that this was a standard horror movie. I was wrong on both counts.

Then I found out that THE TALL MAN was directed by French filmmaker Pascal Laugier, who previously gave us the movie MARTYRS (2008), which I consider one of my all-time favorite horror films. It had the same kind of effect on me when it came out as Takashi Miike’s AUDITION did in 2000. Needless to say, I was psyched and immediately sought THE TALL MAN out. It was supposed to be in limited theatrical release, but it wasn’t playing anywhere near me. Luckily, however, it was playing on cable OnDemand, so I was able to see it for myself.

I’m really glad I did.

THE TALL MAN is a movie full of twists and turns that are going to keep you off balance throughout, as you try to figure out who the good guys are, who the bad guys are, and what everyone here is up to.

It begins in a poverty-stricken small town called Cold Rock, Washington. It used to be thriving once, but the coal mines, the main source of work there, shut down, all the other jobs dried up, and people started losing their homes. Oh yeah, there’s one other reason why Cold Rock is such a sad place. Over the years, there have been several child abductions, and the children have never been recovered. A few people swear they got a look at who took their children, a dark figure that has taken on mythic proportions in the town. Everyone refers to the child stealer as The Tall Man.

It’s here in Cold Rock that Julia Denning (Jessica Biel, who we most recently saw in this summer’s big budget remake of TOTAL RECALL) tries her best to help people get medical care. Her husband was the local doctor, but he’s gone now, and since she was his nurse, she’s able to provide some basic services to those in need. It’s clear however, that even though her husband was respected and loved in Cold Rock, Julia will never be completely accepted by everyone in town. There are some people here who trust her, however, like the mute teenager Jenny (Jodelle Ferland) who will become more important as the film goes on.

Since she’s a widow, Julia has her friend (sister?) Christine (Eve Harlow) babysit her son, David (Jakob Davies) when she’s out making her rounds. David seems to be sickly, but lights up when his mother comes home.

Life is rough in Cold Rock, but Julia does what she can, until the day comes when she returns home to find Christine beaten and tied up, and a hooded figure running away from the house, carrying David in its arms.

While trying to retrieve her son David, Julia Denning (Jessica Biel) falls into a pit of mud in THE TALL MAN.

Julia runs after them, down the street to a large truck that drives away. Determined not to let them get away, Julia grabs on to the back door of the truck, and hangs on for dear life. She tries desperately to retrieve her son in a nightmarish sequence involving the truck, a vicious dog, and an accident. But eventually, she loses the trail, and collapses in the middle of the street, where Lieutenant Dodd (Stephen McHattie) finds her and brings her into his car. He drives her to the local diner where Sheriff Chestnut (William B. Davis) is, and tells him to get an ambulance, while Dodd goes back out trying to find the child stealer based on what Julia has told him.

It’s at this point that things get strange. While washing up and changing her clothes in the office of Trish (Janet Wright) who runs the diner, she hears the Sheriff and another man in a heated discussion, wondering what they should do next. It sounds like they mean to harm Julia. What’s going on here?

To give away any more of the plot would be unkind, but let’s say, at this point, THE TALL MAN stops being a typical horror movie and goes in a completely unexpected direction. This is business as usual for director Pascal Laugier, who is used to running us through a maze in his movies, MARTYRS being a perfect example.

The cast here is very good, especially Biel, who is turning into an actress you can count on to deliver a decent performance. She’s actually much better here than she is in TOTAL RECALL, partly because she’s the lead character, but also because THE TALL MAN is a more serious, intelligent film.

THE TALL MAN is out there.

M. Night Shyamalan might still have the reputation as the king of the twist endings – even if it’s no longer warranted and he’s become something of a joke. But Laugier proves here that he deserves the title more, and he delivers the scares along the way.

The other aspects of this film are finely tuned as well, including the score by Todd Bryanton, which compliments the film perfectly. I was very psyched when I found out that Barry Dejasu was interviewing Bryanton about his soundtrack for THE TALL MAN for his Scoring Horror column (this review is being posted as a companion piece to his interview).

THE TALL MAN is so different from the usual horror movies we keep getting, and is so much more ambitious in its storytelling, that it deserves a wider audience simply because it tries to do something different, and I was disappointed to see that this one has been getting such shoddy distribution. But if you look for it on cable, you would do yourself a favor to find it.

While I didn’t like THE TALL MAN as much as MARTYRS, which remains Laugier’s masterwork, I still thought it was head and shoulders above most of the horror movies Hollywood has been giving us lately. THE TALL MAN is in no way as visceral and nightmarish as MARTYRS, but it does deliver plenty of chills and it will surprise you.

One thing about THE TALL MAN, that you don’t normally get with horror films these days, is that you’ll be thinking about it long after it’s over.

I give it four knives.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE TALL MAN ~ four knives.

 

The French movie poster for THE TALL MAN calls it “The Secret” fittingly enough.

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PONTYPOOL (2008)

Posted in 2010, Apocalyptic Films, Cannibalism, DVD Review, LL Soares Reviews, Zombies with tags , , , , , on November 23, 2010 by knifefighter

PONTYPOOL
DVD Review by L.L. Soares

Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) is a disc jockey who has reached the end of his rope. After what probably was a long career, he finds himself in the small town of Pontypool in Ontario, Canada, doing a morning radio show that consists mostly of weather reports, school closings, and local actors popping in to sing songs from a musical version of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA.

In other words, he’s hit rock bottom.

Who knew the bottom would drop out completely?

PONTYPOOL (2008) begins with Mazzy firing his agent over the phone for not getting him a better gig. But he goes to work anyway. There, his uptight producer Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle) and engineer Laurel-Ann Drummond (Georgina Reilly) await. Sydney is the voice of reason, trying to reign in Mazzy’s more grandstanding moments. Laurel-Ann is young and just got back from a stint in Afghanistan and looks up to Mazzy.

It’s just another day on the air, until things begin to go wrong.

The first indication is when the guy in the “Sunshine Chopper” (actually his car) Ken Loney (voice by Rick Roberts) reports weird happenings in the middle of town. What appears to be a riot (hundreds of people surrounding a doctor’s office building). Then things turn violent. We listen in as townspeople turn into cannibalistic crazies, and Grant, Sydney and Laurel-Ann begin to realize that things are dangerous outside, and they’re trapped in the radio station.

By the time a crowd of psychos has surrounded the station, Mazzy and his companions have come to the conclusion that something is driving the people of their town insane, and this something has to do with words and some kind of virus that affects the processing of language in the human brain.

PONTYPOOL is yet another variation on the zombie story. Just when you thought the genre had exhausted any remaining traces of originality, a movie like this comes around to show you there are still some fresh ideas out there. The script by Tony Burgess (based on his novel, PONTYPOOL CHANGES EVERYTHING) is smart and well-written. Director Bruce McDonald does a fine job of creating a mood of isolation in a small radio station building in the middle of nowhere.

But the main reason to see PONTYPOOL is for the acting, especially Stephen McHattie, who does a terrific job as Grant Mazzy. McHattie is one of those character actors who looks familiar, but you might have a hard time remembering where you’ve seen him before. In McHattie’s case, there are tons of places you could have seen him, going as far back as KOJAK (1974 – 1977) and BEAUTY AND BEAST (1989 – 1990). He even had a recurring role on SEINFELD. More recently, he’s appeared in David Cronenberg’s A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (2005),  WATCHMEN (2009) and the short-lived (and underrated) ABC TV series HAPPY TOWN (2010). This is a guy with real acting chops and it’s really good to see him in a rare lead role that shows off his talents. By the end of PONTYPOOL, I wanted to see more of McHattie.

Lisa Houle and Georgina Reilly do fine jobs with their roles, too. Houle, in particular, changes over the course of the film from a boss with a chip on her shoulder to someone who has to depend on Mazzy to find a way out of their situation, and she’s very believable and increasingly sympathetic as the movie unfolds.

I really liked PONTYPOOL and thought it was a pleasant change of pace from the usual zombie/crazies movies we’ve seen before. And the solution to the problem is as interesting and intelligent as the rest of the script.

Definitely worth checking out.

© Copyright 2010 by L.L. Soares