09/04/2012 08:49 am ET Updated Nov 04, 2012

Movie Review: The Tall Man

The best horror movies are the ones that hew closest to reality.

I'm not talking slashers or serial killers (and certainly not the supernatural). But give me a realistic threat -- with all the random, arbitrary tragedy that life dishes out everyday -- and that's scary to me.

The Tall Man achieves that kind of chilling quality, up to a point. Pascal Laugier's story of a small, depressed town dealing with missing children, taken by a mysterious figure known only as the Tall Man, keeps you plugged in -- right up until it pulls the rug out from under you.

In the end, you'll either buy it -- and appreciate the twist that changes everything you've seen -- or you won't. If you do, The Tall Man will be a surprisingly satisfying little horror movie. If you don't, well, you'll still be held in thrall by a well-filmed chase that occupies Jessica Biel for the central section of the film.

Biel plays Julia, a widowed nurse in a small, economically challenged little mining town in Washington State. She lives with her son and her nanny; her husband, the local doctor, died some years earlier.

But the town is plagued by a wave of child disappearances. Local law enforcement seems helpless to protect the town's kids -- and, as Julia discovers, even being home with them is no guarantee that someone won't steal them away.

That happens to Julia, who wakes up in her own house one night to hear strange sounds -- and discovers that her babysitter is bleeding and trussed up and her boy is slung over the shoulder of a hooded figure running off into the nearby woods.

Julia gives chase -- and where that pursuit leads her is, shall we say, unexpected. How unexpected I can't say without giving away too much. But hang in there; you won't be sorry.

I'm not saying that Laugier's script tracks completely. But it certainly leads the viewer on a merry chase into uncharted territory. Biel is particularly good in these tough-chick roles, conveying determination and courage in a character you might want to bet on.

The Tall Man works surprisingly well, given where it winds up. Give it a chance if you're looking for an unexpected surprise.

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