The last few years have been somewhat of a renaissance for Stephen King adaptations with numerous quality horror pictures based on his work dominating both the big screen and Netflix. From the “It” duology and the passable “Pet Sematary” remake on the big screen to “Gerald’s Game” and “1922” on the streaming service King’s work has shined as a continuous source of quality horror storytelling in the later half of this decade, but there have also been a few duds in the form of “The Dark Tower”, “Cell”, and the “Carrie” remake which, personally, I found passable but I was in a minority. In 2019 alone four movies based on King’s works are being released and the third is “In the Tall Grass” which has just debuted on Netflix. Based on the 2012 novella that King wrote with his son Joe Hill, “In the Tall Grass” follows the King tradition of taking a simple idea and trying to capture the fear many associate with it, in this case the unknown terrors in a field of tall grass. So, does this adaptation follow suit with other quality King movies of late or is it a step back for the author’s filmography? Let’s find out. This is my review of the Netflix Original “In the Tall Grass”.
“In the Tall Grass” sees Cal Demuth (Avery Whitted) and his pregnant sister Becky (Laysla De Oliveira) wonder into a patch of tall grass after hearing the cries of a lost boy named Tobin (Will Buie, Jr.). When they enter they soon find themselves lost and unable to find each other. At times their calls to each other sound far away while the next second the distance seems to have grown without either of them moving. The pair soon meet up with Tobin and his father Ross (Patrick Wilson) who reveal that a mysterious rock lies in the center of the tall grass and holds untold knowledge of the ever-changing maze and its properties. Becky’s ex-boyfriend Travis (Harrison Gilbertson) arrives at the grass as well and enters in an attempt to find Becky and bring her home. As the group attempt to deduce a way out things get even stranger when their concept of time as well as location are sent reeling and the sinister nature of the tall grass is unraveled.
“In the Tall Grass” has long intrigued me considering that it’s one of many Stephen King products that focuses on a rather obscure natural fear of humanity. While the idea of getting lost in the tall grass is more akin to the experience in a corn maze (which King already covered through “Children of the Corn”) it’s still a worthy concept nonetheless especially seeing as tall grass can contain any sort of untold threats. That’s what makes this movie a little underwhelming because it trades in the idea of hidden monsters and unseen terrors for a more supernatural approach to the concept while also trying to tackle the dark side of humanity at the same time. “In the Tall Grass”, which is directed by Vincenzo Natali of “Cube” and “Splice” fame, packs an intriguing idea but doesn’t quite nail the concept the way I hoped it would.
Granted going in I wasn’t as familiar with the source material, so I had to do some research before I watched the film. The movie version does contain many of the elements of the novella, but most of the main story from the book is packed in the first half hour where we see the close-knit brother and sister enter the maze in search of a seemingly lost young boy. Some elements of the novella make their way into the ensuing adventure, but then the film takes its own turn adding in the original character of the boyfriend and focusing more on science fiction elements to drive home the supernatural nature of the tall grass. This adds to the mystery of what’s taking place by retelling the same parts of the story over and over again which could have made for an interesting idea, but here it just feels tedious. I think the idea behind this, and it’s almost explained as such in the film, is that the film it’s supposed to represent how the choices we make and the wrong turns we take in life can lead to disastrous results if left unchecked. While it is inventive and achieves the desired effect of making us, the viewers, feel just as lost and confused as the characters it makes “In the Tall Grass” feel frustratingly complicated and will certainly have some finding it a chore to watch. At a little over an hour and a half “In the Tall Grass” raises a lot of questions but offers few satisfying answers which can leave viewers wondering what the point of it all was.
With that said though I didn’t exactly hate this movie. In an odd way the lack of answers and the tedious nature of its storytelling left me as frustrated as the lost characters in the tall grass, which I kind of appreciated. Like trying to find your way out of a complicated corn maze, “In the Tall Grass” can leave you pleasantly confused if you embrace it in a certain way as it tries to capture the claustrophobia and mental breakage that comes with its chosen scenario. It was fun and unnerving in its own way, even if it’s not necessarily a scary movie. I certainly walked away thinking very differently about whether I’d chance walking into the unknown of an overgrown field which, on the surface, is the entire point of the narrative. The style incorporated into this film is also a lot of fun. The cinematography is the most gripping aspect of the film. The way characters are shot and the different angles meant to show the massive size of the overgrown grass field really gives the viewer some perspective into the scope of the problem these characters are facing and the hopelessness of trying to escape.
Even with all of that going for it though “In the Tall Grass” is still average at best with a middling script and sub-par performances from most members of the cast especially the young Will Buie, Jr. who portrays the lost boy Tobin as if it was his first table read. It’s as unconvincing as any performance you’d find in a B-level horror flick. Stars Laysla De Oliveira and Avery Whitted, who portray brother and sister duo Becky and Cal, don’t necessarily turn in bad performances but they’re also not very memorable either while Harrison Gilbertson as Becky’s boyfriend Travis just FEELS like a character written specifically in to add to the social subtext of the film. The only standout performance is the typically dedicated interpretation of Tobin’s father Ross by Patrick Wilson, a veteran of 2010s horror, who makes Ross a unpredictable character who may or may not pose the biggest threat or the most effective salvation to the main characters. Even he feels a little dumbed down in this flick though mostly due to the lack of development of his character’s motives and the imperfect script and screenplay.
As far as Netflix movies go, “In the Tall Grass” is about as middle of the road as the streaming service tends to get. It’s nowhere near as unwatchable as many of the service’s worst pictures but in no way reaches anywhere near the highest of highs. It pales in comparison to “1922” and “Gerald’s Game”, but it’s not bad enough to derail the Stephen King renaissance that has dominated the genre in recent years. It’s a neat idea handled in a less-than-effective manner that’s more creepy than scary, more complicated than thought provoking, and maybe a bit to ambitious for its own good. Would I recommend it? Well I’ll say this much, I wouldn’t steer anyone away from it. It’s a fine example of the modern passable-at-best horror flick with enough good elements to make the final product fun but not enough to make it as interesting as it deserves to be. If you go in with that understanding “In the Tall Grass” might offer just enough to keep you invested even if you’ll probably forget you saw it a few years down the road.