Last updated: August 14. 2014 12:26PM - 376 Views
Tom Doty Times Columnist

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A small town in the Pacific Northwest is terrorized by a dark figure that abducts children, in this carefully orchestrated chiller from Pascal Laugier (“Martyrs”).

The film opens with a bang as police, assisted by FBI agent Lt. Dodd, search for a missing child and interview the only witness, a bloodied and beaten down woman named Julia. The story then leaps back 36 hours and we see the ordeal she went through that led to her bruised state.

Welcome to Cold Rock, where life has come to a standstill after the local industry (a mine) went under. The people of this depressed area now have no tax base for improving their hamlet and things have gotten progressively worse. Now they live in fear of the titular fiend they believe has been stealing their children. Is it an urban legend or something much worse?

The town physician has passed on and Julia, who was married to the good doctor, has stepped up to continue treating the locals, despite the fact that they can’t pay for services and her training ended at the nursing level. Julie returns home after an exhausting day and puts on a brave smile for her boy and plays with him like the world’s greatest mom. You just know things are going to get bad.

It doesn’t take long for the terror of the Tall Man to disrupt Julia’s lifestyle. That night, she hears a noise and goes downstairs to find her roommate bound and gagged. She darts after the tall figure she spies hurtling out of the house with her little one. What follows is a knuckle-whitening chase that sees Julia leaping onto the back of the figure’s truck.

Turns out the tall one is not alone and he sics his dog on her. She manages to overcome the beast, but is no match for the big figure who clubs her down. Julia comes to in the back of the van and manages to free herself for another go-around. This time, she surprises our villain and is able to force them off the road. Unfortunately, the resulting crash knocks her out and she wakes to find that the creep has escaped and the child is nowhere to be found.

She winds up in the care of Lt.Dodd, who has been assisting the local police with each of the disappearances. He gets her to town and goes back to scour the scene, while the local diner provides shelter for her. Something seems suspicious about the citizens who are looking after Julia and she picks up on it. She manages to escape by hitching a ride in the backseat of the sheriff’s cruiser.

Turns out the local lawman is not exactly out to help her. Julia winds up at an abandoned facility where a dark figure is waiting, as well as the petrified young boy she has been searching for the whole time. Can she save him and stop the reign of the Tall Man? I can’t say any more, except to tell you to prepare yourself for some awesome twists that will give you neck spasms.

This is a beautifully crafted thriller that unfolds at a deliberate pace and keeps shifting perspectives, so you have to stick with it till the bitter end to be rewarded. It is worth the ride. This is a fine suspense tale but that has something to say about how the current job scene (almost as bleak as this film) impacts children by creating enormous tension in your average middle class household. The film ultimately asks how far should we go to protect our young ones and it doesn’t pull any punches exploring this topic.

Films about children in peril are a rough watch, but stick with this one. It delivers an almost happy ending and the lead performance by Jessica Biel makes it work. Laugier is France’s best gift to the horror scene since “High Tension.” Keep an eye on this guy, as he knows how to tell an awesome terror tale without speaking down to his audience and he still manages to be generous with the jump scares, gore and action.

Best line: “Our town has been dead for six years.”

2012, rated R.

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