October 1, 2019 In the Tall Grass (Movie Review)
The tall grasses are swaying amidst lush fall breezes, corn is being harvested and jack-o’-lanterns are present on many a front porch. It’s the perfect time of year for a new Horror offering born inside the warped literary minds of the Master of Horror Stephen King and his equally exceptional son Joe Hill. Based on the pair’s novella of the same name, Vincenzo Natali’s In the Tall Grass makes its global premiere on Netflix on Friday, October 4, 2019.
The film stars a splendid cast of seven: Laysla De Oliveira (Locke & Key series, Guest of Honour 2019), Avery Whitted (The Vanishing of Sidney Hall 2017), Harrison Gilbertson (Need for Speed 2014, Fallen 2016), Patrick Wilson (The Phantom of the Opera 2004, Insidious 2010), Rachel Wilson (Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me 1999, Saw 3D: The Final Chapter 2010), Tiffany Helm (Friday the 13th: A New Beginning 1985, Rama video game 1997), and young Will Buie Jr. (Gifted 2017, Bunk’d series).
While driving through the heartland, pregnant Becky (Oliveira) and her brother Cal (Whitted) make an unplanned stop beside an old stone church and a massive field. When the pair hear a young boy calling for help from within the tall grass, they venture in to rescue him only to end up lost and disoriented by the vastness of the landscape. Soon they encounter Tobin (Buie Jr.), along with his parents Ross (P. Wilson) and Natalie (R. Wilson), who are also lost.
With the addition of Becky’s estranged boyfriend Travis (Gilbertson), the pandemonium in the ocean of green only grows to frustrating levels as the group become ensnared by a sinister force. Cut off from the world and unable to escape the field’s tightening grip, they soon discover that the only thing worse than getting lost is being found.
Clocking in at 101 minutes and rated TV-MA, In the Tall Grass was Written and Directed by Natali (Cube 1997, Cypher 2002), a gifted filmmaker who has also directed episodes of Westworld, American Gods, The Strain, and more. As previously mentioned, the film is based off the 2012 novella of the same name from King and Hill, originally published in two parts in Esquire magazine.
It would be hard to deny the fact that any time a Horror film is set in a massive field with enormous stalks of grass or corn, the 1984 classic Children of the Corn immediately comes to mind. However, for this particular Drama, Horror, Thriller, while the religious metaphors also abound, there are really no similarities save for the fact that the two tales share an author. Instead, taking the film at surface value, In the Tall Grass explores the idea that some places have a mind of their own, and that even something as banal as grass can be truly horrifying in the right context.
Because the tale is mired in as many layers as there are leaves of grass in its starring scenery, the cast play a prominent role in bringing the true horrors of the tale to life. Oliveira, Whitted, and Gilbertson all do a phenomenal job of portraying their interconnected characters, a trio who are troubled long before they ever encounter the evil field. Invariably intertwined by their love, Becky, Cal and Travis anchor the drama that is at the center of In the Tall Grass. Providing many of the chills and thrills, Patrick Wilson is wonderful at being so disgustingly congenial as to be unnerving, a real-estate agent who might as well be a used car salesman. As the glue that initially binds them all together, young Buie Jr. gives an exemplary performance as the wide-eyed Tobin.
Natali’s take on the novella, along with the magnificent cinematography of Craig Wrobleski (The Umbrella Academy series, The Twilight Zone series) and eerie score from Mark Korven (The Witch 2015, The Lighthouse 2019), make for an enormously impactful and aesthetically (and aurally) pleasing experience. With artful transitions and an astounding attention to the macro details of the creatures that inhabit the grass, Natali’s work never relies on its strong source material for success, forging its own brilliant path with eccentric angles and plenty of visual metaphors. Suitably dark and unnerving at every twist and turn, In the Tall Grass is the perfect film for October.
It’s hard not to appreciate the creative genius of a prolific, best-selling author who actually writes his own novels (what a concept!), and has continuously produced amazing new material for 45 years now. As a film, In the Tall Grass goes bold with its macabre and haunting aesthetic appeal, while the story that sits at its center is one of faith, hope, and redemption—much like many of King’s written works. The end result is a movie that never provides clear-cut answers, and that is likely to polarize audiences while inspiring intelligent debates.
A great film to discuss with friends, In the Tall Grass is high brow Horror done right. Definitely ‘Netflix and chill’ this one! Cryptic Rock give In the Tall Grass 5 of 5 stars.