LOADING ...

Stephen King and Joe Hill adaptation In The Tall Grass tries to make plants terrifying

Katie Rife Oct 03, 2019. 16 comments
Movie Review
jnet40tzcwiq3bhaqkj8.png
Movie Review

In The Tall Grass

C+
Movie Review

In The Tall Grass

C+
C+

In The Tall Grass

Director

Vincenzo Natali

Runtime

101 minutes

Rating

Not Rated

Language

English

Cast

Laysla De Oliveira, Avery Whitted, Harrison Gilbertson, Patrick Wilson

Availability

Netflix October 4

How do you make a field of grass scary? If you’re Stephen King and his son Joe Hill, the answer is simple: Turn it into a sentient, supernatural maze from which there is no escape, and add some daddy issues for good measure. Those are the broadest strokes of In The Tall Grass, King and Hill’s novella originally serialized in Esquire magazine and now the subject of a typically middling Netflix film adaptation. The streaming service seems to have a knack for commissioning original films from in-demand creatives, then flattening the results into just-okay entertainment designed to replace the direct-to-video market bulldozed by streaming. And In The Tall Grass is no exception.

The creative in question this time around is Vincenzo Natali, director of such cult horror films as

Cube (1997) and Splice (2009). Natali’s style jives well with the organic puzzle box that is the eponymous field itself, where time and space move in unpredictable, non-linear spurts and where, as sad-eyed little field goblin Tobin (Will Buie Jr.) puts it, “The tall grass doesn’t move dead things.” Everything else is variable, as Cal (Avery Whitted) and his heavily pregnant sister, Becky (Laysla De Oliveira), discover after they pull over on the side of a lonely Kansas highway so Becky can vomit. Before they can pull away, they hear a little boy calling for help from the field, whose grass grows well over 10 feet high and sways dizzily in the strong prairie breeze. Against their better judgement, they go in after him.

It’s a slim setup, and at first it’s not clear at all how this story will be able to sustain a 101-minute movie. Then more characters start stumbling out of the grass and into Cal and Becky’s purview, including Tobin, his panicked mother, Natalie (Rachel Wilson), and his demented father, Ross (Patrick Wilson), the Jack Torrance of this particular tangle of green. Unfortunately, Wilson’s scenery-chewing performance is misjudged, bringing a camp factor that clashes with not only his co-stars’ performances, but also everything else in this otherwise serious film.

A few months later, or maybe at the same time (time moves differently in the grass, remember?), Becky’s boyfriend, Travis (Harrison Gilbertson), comes looking for her when she doesn’t show up at a prearranged meeting with the couple planning to adopt their baby. Cal absolutely hates Travis, which, combined with Ross’ unhinged violence, provides plenty of toxic energy to feed the mystical forces that sustain the field. This leads to a wild, folk horror-tinged climax during an earth-shaking thunderstorm, by far the most visually inventive scene in the film.

One opportunity presented by the move from page to screen that Natali embraces is the power of a good sound mix. The film version of In The Tall Grass creates a sense of disorientation by playing with audio volume and depth—an experience that, save for those who have a full-fledged home theater system, plays better on the big screen. On the other hand, certain other aspects of the film, like its always-disappointing CGI blood effects, may be less noticeable at home than in a movie theater.

Either way, the movie is a mixed bag, well shot and well acted enough to mostly keep the viewer’s attention, but meandering enough to frustrate at the same time. It’s bookended by flat, brightly lit, purely functional scenes that don’t quite erase the memory of the surrealist horrors that unfold at its peak, but do come close. Stephen King and Joe Hill fans should also note that there are a handful of Easter eggs scattered throughout, mostly in the parking lot of the church that sits on the edge of the field. But if you’re not a big enough fan of either of them to catch the references, you can probably skip this movie as well.

16 Comments

Other Katie Rife's posts

Ford V Ferrari makes happy dads out of us all Ford V Ferrari makes happy dads out of us all

In honor of the fast-approaching 92nd Academy Awards, airing Sunday, February 9, Film Club is taking a break from covering this week’s film releases t...

Here are the nominees for the 92nd Academy Awards Here are the nominees for the 92nd Academy Awards

The nominations for the 2020 Academy Awards are being announced live in Los Angeles this morning, presented by John Cho and Issa Rae. Both Cho and Ra...

The director of The Haunting Of Sharon Tate sets his ghoulish sights on The Murder Of Nicole Brown Simpson The director of The Haunting Of Sharon Tate sets his ghoulish sights on The Murder Of Nicole Brown Simpson

For his latest shameless dive into the deep end of true-crime conspiracy theory, director Daniel Farrands appears to have taken inspiration from O.J....

Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne are embattled BFFs in the stiff friend-com Like A Boss Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne are embattled BFFs in the stiff friend-com Like A Boss

The aesthetic of Universal’s Like A Boss is all rose gold and champagne gummy bears, bold lips and sky-high platform heels. And why not? It’s a froth...

Suggested posts

Josh Gad doing a bad accent is somehow the least of the annoyances in Disney’s Artemis Fowl Josh Gad doing a bad accent is somehow the least of the annoyances in Disney’s Artemis Fowl

The words “Artemis Fowl” make up a significant chunk of the dialogue in Artemis Fowl. The title character, a child criminal mastermind introduced in ...

Spike Lee goes to Vietnam with his politically muddled war movie Da 5 Bloods Spike Lee goes to Vietnam with his politically muddled war movie Da 5 Bloods

Spike Lee’s cultural messaging for once fails him in the politically muddled Da 5 Bloods. With the film, Lee offers his submission to a history of blo...

You Don’t Nomi spotlights the cult of Showgirls, and how a big flop became a midnight sensation You Don’t Nomi spotlights the cult of Showgirls, and how a big flop became a midnight sensation

The smartest thing You Don’t Nomi does is staunchly avoid adopting a single point of view. Those seeking a defense of the notorious 1995 flop Showgir...

Judd Apatow fashions a low-laugh star vehicle for Pete Davidson in The King Of Staten Island Judd Apatow fashions a low-laugh star vehicle for Pete Davidson in The King Of Staten Island

Judd Apatow has made his share of overlong movies, but none as languorously paced as his latest comedy of delayed adulthood and life crisis, The King ...

The director of Rubber returns with a deranged love story between a man and his jacket The director of Rubber returns with a deranged love story between a man and his jacket

Getting older drives men to weird places. Some cope with ink or dye. Others splurge on sports cars. And of course, there’s the timeless ritual of cha...

Moonlight’s Ashton Sanders broods through the familiar Netflix drama All Day And A Night Moonlight’s Ashton Sanders broods through the familiar Netflix drama All Day And A Night

It’s true that there’s nothing new under the sun, and that everybody’s paying tribute to somebody. But Netflix’s latest original movie, All Day And A...

For a 2-hour orgy of S&M and severed limbs, Liberté is pretty tedious For a 2-hour orgy of S&M and severed limbs, Liberté is pretty tedious

In the year 1774, some time before the French Revolution, a group of aristocratic libertines exiled from the court of Louis XVI gather in a secluded ...

Netflix takes another shot at Cyrano de Bergerac with queer love triangle The Half Of It Netflix takes another shot at Cyrano de Bergerac with queer love triangle The Half Of It

“This is not a love story,” introverted high schooler Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis) warns us in her opening narration. “Or not one where anyone gets what th...

Beastie Boys Story is no sure shot Beastie Boys Story is no sure shot

What if they made a Beastie Boys movie and it wasn’t any fun? If there were none of the rambunctious spirit that defined the New York trio’s music ev...

True History Of The Kelly Gang writes a powerful fictionalized biography of the outlaw True History Of The Kelly Gang writes a powerful fictionalized biography of the outlaw

It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that as long as there have been movies, there have been movies about Ned Kelly. The 19th-century bushranger, b...

Language