In "The Tall Man" a figure fitting that description is snatching the children of a remote Pacific Northwest town. Though the local nurse (Jessica Biel) had been skeptical of the legend up to that point, once he breaks into her home and takes her son she springs into action trying to get the boy back.
What happens then is a maddening swirl of events widely open to interpretation: the nurse finds the Tall Man; the whole town is complicit in a conspiracy; the nurse is insane, or she's guilty.
Writer-director Pascal Laugier, making the follow-up to his 2008 French-language film "Martyrs," maximizes the rainy canopy of his locations, creating a sense of dreary containment beneath constantly overcast skies.
An actress who hasn't managed to quite find her niche, Biel tones down her striking beauty and athletic curves to believably play a desperate mother with disheveled hair and minimal makeup. But the story sends her hurtling through a world gone weird, where conspiracies pile on top of one another until the narrative spins out of control.
Long on atmosphere and short on sense, "The Tall Man" becomes less gripping as it grows more ridiculous.
"The Tall Man." MPAA rating: R for violence and terror, and for language. Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes. At Laemmle's NoHo 7, North Hollywood.