In The Tall Grass review: A competently directed, if not the scariest, Stephen King adaptation from Netflix
In The Tall Grass is now a movie — thanks to Netflix, which continues to build its scary movie catalogue by mining Stephen King's extensive library of horrors.
castLaysla De Oliveira, Avery Whitted, Patrick Wilson, Harrison Gilbertson, Will Buie Jr, Rachel Wilson
There are Stephen King stories that so masterfully provoke a pervasive, creeping dread — that despite some of their flaws, are still deemed as classics.
Forget dancing clowns and rabid St. Bernards, this is a man who can turn on the creep with almost anything, including trains (Blaine the Mono), cars (Christine) and hotels (Dolphin too, not just The Overlook). Although he produced his best creative work solo, some of his collaborations too possess the power to hold you trapped in a spell of terror like few other authors can. The product of one such collaboration with his own son, Joe Hill, was In The Tall Grass — a short story with horticultural horrors, an unrelenting something's-wrong-but-you-are-not-sure-what atmosphere and some good old fashioned metaphysical musing on human nature.
In The Tall Grass is now a movie — thanks to Netflix, which continues to build its scary movie catalogue by mining King's extensive library of horrors. The adaptation comes from Vincenzo Natali, who has built up enough goodwill in the horror fan community with Cube (1997) and Cypher (2002), both of which have become something of a cult favorite.
So, In The Tall Grass is not your traditional jump scare-filled film; nor is it one filled with guts, gristle and gore. But there are scares to be had and enough blood to be shed to keep the horror fan satisfied.
Natali doesn't beat around the bush too much and gets the story going pretty much straightaway. Becky (Laysla De Oliveira) and her brother Cal DeMuth (Avery Whitted) are on a cross-country road-trip to San Diego to arrange the adoption of Becky’s unborn child. As they drive across Kansas, they stop and pull off to the side of the road after hearing a young boy call for help from beyond The Tall Grass. The child sounds like he's trapped and probably in trouble. So, the siblings enter The Tall Grass to investigate, hoping to rescue the young boy but soon find themselves lost. They are inevitably separated in the foliage that stretchs to the horizon. They try to speak up and walk towards the sound but the known laws of nature and the physics of time, space and sound don't seem to apply in The Tall Grass. As day turns to night, they realise once you enter The Tall Grass, it is impossible to leave.
Natali’s direction creates a sustained atmosphere of psychological dread as the camera hones in on the great green swells of tall grass as they undulate in waves to violent gusts of wind and even the most gentle breeze. It gives the impression that the entire field is moving and alive. The tall blades of grass, with each sway, seem more siniser than the last as they rustle in the night air.
As more characters are introduced from the boy's parents (played by Patrick Wilson and Rachel Wilson) to Becky's boyfriend (Harrison Gilbertson), you soon realise there is a snake in the grass. To give anything more away would spoil the film but let it be known there’s a sci-fi dimension to the story you won’t see coming.
The plot of In The Tall Grass appears linear in the first act before we realise it is a recursive narrative in the second. The film suspends its characters (and the viewers) in an endless predicament of having just started the story again, but in a marginally different place, manner and point in time. Same scenes are played out from different perspectives and only add to the mindf*ck. The camera movements add to the chaos and confusion of the story and Natali displays a stunning level of authorship that’s so often lost in most adaptations. Just as you think it's leading you one way, it swerves sharply to the left. But the third act utterly blindsides you, and not in a good way. Once you piece together the puzzle of what you have witnessed, you're not entirely satisfied.
The characters are nothing more than window dressing but no one can deny the commitment of the cast to bring the source material to life in all its horrific glory. After his various stints in the Conjuring-verse, Patrick Wilson has become a veritable Scream King™ and keeps you fairly riveted to the screen even here. The film is, however, most effective when it lets the camera deliver the scares and articulate the horror, rather than its characters and dialogue.
In The Tall Grass is nothing more than a serviceable dread concoction as Netflix tries to make hay while the sun shines on Stephen King adaptations. But even in Netflix's Stephen King catalogue, it is not exactly the cream of the crop.
In the Tall Grass had its world premiere at Fantastic Fest, and will release on Netflix on 4 October. Firstpost will be reviewing select features as part of our remote coverage of Fantastic Fest, America's largest genre film festival.
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