Fantasia Faceoff: The Tall Man vs. Headshot
Let’s face it: when you go to a festival like Fantasia, you’re a slave to the schedule. Most movies are only screened once or twice, and with a vast wealth of intriguing titles to check out, chances are you’re going to have to make a hard choice sooner or later. Will be it anime or documentary? Korean slice-of-life or Canadian horror? American comedy or short film showcase?
Enter Fantasia Faceoff. I’ll be catching two shows for every night I’m at the festival and – no matter how different their content and ambitions – reporting back with a final verdict as to which one is most worth your attention. Yes, this means comparing apples and oranges – or rather, lychees and potatoes, or bok choy and coconuts. But Fantasia has always been a place where all sorts of (cinematic) fruits and vegetables come to intermingle, and what’s a meeting of minds and national sensibilities without a little friendly competition?
So. Thursday night I caught psychological horror film The Tall Man and Thai film noir Headshot – and while it was a close thing, one of them definitely came out on top. Read on to find out which!
The Tall Man
Written and Directed by Pascal Laugier
Jessica Biel plays Julia Denning, a nurse who’s at once doctor, psychotherapist, and social worker to the desperately poor residents of Cold Rock, Washington. When a child in her care goes missing – as so many children in the community have, with none ever being heard from again – she becomes inextricably involved in the myth of the Tall Man, the monster who takes children away.
This movie really does keep you guessing until the final reel, repeatedly luring you deep into belief in one explanation before pulling the rug out from beneath your feet with a new piece of information. At the same time it grows political in its implications, becoming a story about economic disparity and whether it is possible to break the cycle of poverty.
That said, I’m afraid the film settles on a reveal that, while satisfying on a thematic level, isn’t particularly credible. Jessica Biel’s performance, on the other hand, is endlessly interesting, becoming ever more remarkable as the possible explanations stack up, each one framing her character in a different light. She holds this film together, stringing its convolutions together with a character who can play host to multiple readings of the mystery while still holding on to our sympathies.
It’s a relentlessly absorbing and entertaining experience if not a perfect one, with some less-than-stellar special effects and performances ramping up the cheese factor. But if you’re a Pascal Laugier fan after catching 2008′s Martyrs, or want to check out a horror movie that reaches beyond the conventions of the genre, The Tall Man should stand head and shoulders above your other picks for the evening.
The Tall Man has its next and last screening on August 1st at the J.A. De Seve Theatre. Get your tickets early – it sold out on Thursday, and is liable to do so again.
Written and Directed by Pen-Ek Ratanaruang
A cop-turned-hitman. A devastating dame. Rain, nighttime, gunshots and grime. Headshot is film noir through and through, with all the plot complexity, moral ambiguity, and frame-by-frame gorgeousness that the label implies.
The film’s center is Tul, a mild-mannered and unerringly moral policeman who winds up in prison when he arrests a crook with all the right connections. Later recruited as a hitman, he survives being shot in the head, and wakes up to find that he sees the world upside down. No longer willing or able to kill for pay, his past actions pursue him, and he begins a convoluted quest for refuge and salvation.
Told in a non-linear series of flashbacks, the film isn’t so much about plot (although there is a fair amount of it) as it is a character study. We get to know Tul so well that the film feels like an invasion of privacy, a voyeuristic look at a man pushed beyond his moral boundaries into a never-ending quest for security. Along the way, Tul gets so much taken from him – and maintains such a poetic, stolid distance from his own actions and emotions – that it’s impossible not to feel for him.
None of this means that the action sequences are tame, though: one of the most compelling scenes in the film in a gunfight in the woods and the rain that manages to be both terrifying and absolutely beautiful to look at. Tul’s assignments, meanwhile, are portrayed as messy, awkward, split-second affairs, almost as comical as they are monstrous.
The film isn’t without flaws, the most significant being that you’ll spot one of the plot twists a mile away. But with its meditative, thoughtful tone, and endlessly beautiful cinematography, this crime thriller has soul to spare.
Call it treason, but in this reviewer’s opinion Headshot wins hands down. It’s aesthetically accomplished where The Tall Man is all by-the-book shadowiness, and its narrative challenges as well as provokes (Tall Man only manages the latter). And if you want to get practical about it, you’re probably more likely to catch The Tall Man on the big screen at a later date than you are Headshot. So go see it! Thursday evening’s screening was sparsely attended – something I’m hoping to see remedied when I catch it a second time.