There are some teamups that just sound so good, there’s no way they can fail. Batman and Superman. Peanut butter and chocolate. Godzilla and Mothra. The latest team to have me salivating is the filmmakers behind In the Tall Grass, namely the combination of writer/director Vincenzo Natali (Cube), Stephen King, and Joe Hill. But the perfect teamup doesn’t always end with perfect results…
…I’m a big fan of all three of those names, and it’s a damn crime that Natali isn’t a more well-known director in the public eye. All three of these artists have told incredible, strange, and incredibly strange stories that resonate with an alluring power. In the Tall Grass is no exception in that, from the get go, there is something so off-kilter about the story, that you can’t help but be immediately intrigued.
Written by Natali and based on the novella by King and his son, Hill, In The Tall Grass opens with brother and sister Becky (Laysla De Oliveira) and Cal (Avery Whitted), on their way to get Becky an abortion. Things go from depressing to horrific though when they stop in the middle of the road by a field with grass as tall as corn crops, encountering the screams for help from a young boy. But when the pair enter the field, they discover that getting out isn’t as easy as going back the way they came, because the grass has other plans for them.
That might sound a little Children of the Corn-y to you, but you know what, you have to appreciate a guy like King who has not once, but twice managed to write a totally original story about cornfields, this time with his son. This film is like taking the hedge maze scene in The Shining, throwing in a field instead, and drawing that out for about 100 minutes. I could draw parallels all day about how In the Tall Grass relates to those two works, from opening with a pair on the road suddenly stopping by a field (Children of the Corn), to the boy named Tobin (Will Buie Jr.) that they meet who seems to have a stronger connection to the horror than it first appears (The Shining), but if anyone’s surprised that a King story is taking from other King stories, well, you must be new to King stories.
Also typical to a King/Hill story, it doesn’t take long for things to get weird. It’s only a matter of seconds once Becky and Cal enter the field before they realize that they can in one moment be within feet of each other, and in the next suddenly be teleported half a mile away from one another. Soon, they encounter a handful of other people in the grass, such as Tobin, Tobin’s off-kilter dad, Ross (Patrick Wilson), and Becky’s baby daddy, Travis (Harrison Gilbertson), who has come to find her after she disappeared two months ago, even though it’s only been a day for Becky. The tension is heavy between the cast, because it’s not every day you run into a bunch of strangers in a time-warped field, and so understandably, no one trusts anyone. Becky puts it best when she says, “forget the kid, this is about us now”. Ruthless, Becky. I like it.
In the Tall Grass is an exceptionally eerie film. I never thought there’d be a day where I was unnerved by grass, but here we are, with Natali making me feel like little blades of grass are creeping under my skin. What’s really scary about the idea of a field like this that captures unsuspecting victims, is that it would be so easy to fall into this trap. No one looks at a field in the Midwest and goes, “that grass is going to kill me”. You especially don’t assume that grass is going to throw you into an absurd time loop.
As In the Tall Grass goes on, the situation gets stranger and stranger, introducing familiar King themes such as crazy religious zealots, ancient evils from before time itself, incest…you know, the usual. Subtle elements also begin to make more and more sense, like why the abandoned church across the field has so many cars parked outside, and how one character can be dead ten minutes earlier, then alive again, but with their corpse still rotting where it was left (the grass, after all, doesn’t move dead things, as Tobin informs us).
You’re probably starting to get a good idea of just how odd and convoluted In the Tall Grass is, and like I said, this story is highly original and deserves points for that. But the rules don’t always gel, and the plot frequently feels as if it gets lost in the weeds, with some added Deus ex Machina thrown in whenever needed to get our characters from point A to B. Admittedly, I haven’t read the King/Hill story, but both, as well as Natali, can sometimes overcomplicate the simplest of plots, and that’s what happens here with In the Tall Grass. To its credit, this is a twisty film that loses its viewers in a maze of eerie green, so one word no one will be able to apply to it is “predictable”.
Helping to keep the film from feeling too repetitive is the cinematography by Craig Wrobleski. After all, most of In the Tall Grass is a small cast of characters attempting to find their way out of grass, so to keep things fresh, Wrobleski works his ass off to make the field appear interesting, and the results are phenomenal. I never thought a bunch of grass could look so beautiful, but Wrobleski is shooting at an award-winning level with this little film, the imagery is just that stunning, and features one of the most hellish visuals I’ve ever seen in a film involving King.
Occasionally frightening and packed with jaw-dropping visuals, there’s a lot to dig with In the Tall Grass, but Natali’s return to horror doesn’t land quite as strongly as you’d hope, thanks to an overly confusing plot with rules that aren’t planted firmly.
You can now get lost In the Tall Grass on Netflix.
By Matt Konopka