ulia lives in a small town in Washington called Cold Rock. She is the town’s local nurse, widowed by her husband, who was the town’s doctor. Cold Rock was formerly a prosperous mining town, but has become poverty-stricken. There is little work, the school has been closed and the town is virtually vanished from the map. During her day, Julia visits several families. Jenny and Carol live with their mother and her violent, alcoholic boyfriend, who has impregnated Carol. Despite this, their mother did not kick him out, drawing Julia’s ire. Instead, she sends away Carol and her baby, whom Julia helped to deliver. Because of her rough life, Jenny is selectively mute, communicating through a journal she carries. She also sketches things she’s seen, including “the tall man”. This is a local legend or urban myth surrounding a being who abducts local children who are never seen again.
Julia returns to her large home on the outskirts of Cold Rock, which she shares with her son David and his nanny. She eats dinner, puts David to bed, and falls asleep on a couch. She awakes to a noise downstairs, followed by a loud radio sermon. She finds the nanny bound and gagged, then rushes to her son’s bedroom, finding him gone. While in pursuit of what the viewer believes is “The Tall Man”, it is gradually revealed that David is not her son at all, but rather one of the kidnapped children. The kidnapper is actually the real mother of the boy, attempting to take back her child. The rest of the town, skeptical of the mother’s accusations, agree to give her a chance to prove her claims.
Julia, with the help of Jenny, pursues the mother, reacquires David, and hands him off to “The Tall Man” in the tunnels which run under the town, left over from the defunct mine. Jenny begs her to send the Tall Man to take her, too. Julia initially refuses but then relents, cautioning her to remain silent about it until the Tall Man comes for her. Julia then waits in her house. The police and FBI arrive, as does an angry mob. The nanny hangs herself, and Julia is taken to jail, where she is despised and threatened as a child killer. Julia admits to kidnapping and murdering the children, but the confession is later revealed to be a lie. Julia is part of an organization which “rescues” young children from bad homes and places them with good ones, in an attempt to break the cycle of poverty and abuse which passes from one generation to the next.