IN THE TALL GRASS (October 26th)
YOU'VE GOT RED ON YOU TAKES PART IN THE 31 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN CHALLENGE; WATCHING ONE HORROR MOVIE A DAY THROUGHOUT OCTOBER. SOME OF THEM OLD, SOME OF THEM NEW, SOME OF THEM HAVE JUST BEEN ON OUR SHELVES FOR YEARS GATHERING DUST, STILL IN CELLOPHANE...
It seems as if every month there is a Stephen King adaptation being released. On the site we shared the trailer for the new TV series 'The Outsider', based on one of King's most recent efforts and news also broke recently that Lisey's Story is being adapted into a feature film. On top of that we had the IT sequel released a few months back and Doctor Sleep hits theatres next week too. King has co-written several novellas with his son, author and comic book writer Joe Hill and amongst the most interesting of those is the 2012 short 'In the Tall Grass'. Canadian Director Vincenzo Natali (the guy who made 'Cube') apparently wanted to do a big screen adaptation back in 201 but it never came to pass. However, things changed in 2018 when Netflix bought the rights and duly hired Natali to helm the project.
'Who would think that grass could be frightening? Trust Stephen King and Joe Hill to find a way. They have transformed an otherwise innocuous Kansas field into a stage for some of the most disturbing horror fiction I have ever read.', Natali once said. Sounds like a bit of a dream job to be honest.
The film starts with a couple of twenty somethings, a heavily pregnant Becky and her protective brother Cal, on a road trip to San Diego. Driving through a desolate part of Kansas, Cal pulls over to let Becky throw up. It's then that they hear the voice of a child from somewhere amidst the tall grass of the huge field at the side of the road. The kid tells them that he is stuck in the grass and cannot find a way out. After debating what to do, Cal and Becky decide to enter the grass in an effort to locate the boy and lead him to safety. However things don't go according to plan. They soon become separated and find that their distance from each other seemingly changes for no reason. Unable to locate the kid – or find a way out, the pair become increasingly panicked. As night falls they eventually find the boy, but their problems are far from over...
In The Tall Grass is something of a mixed bag and it's easy to see why audience reaction to it has been mixed. The core issue with it is that the source material isn't quite substantial enough to fill a 100 minute feature film. After a genuinely fascinating opening twenty minutes or so the film sort of plateaus a little. The movie feels as if it is predominantly one very long second act, which although never boring, suffers as it runs out of steam a little the further it goes on. Also, as is quite often with films with intriguingly mysterious premises, the reveal doesn't quite live up to expectations. It's typically King sci-fi horror stuff and the concept as a whole is still quite interesting and thought provoking, even after the credits roll. However, even with admittedly quite a lot of blood and gore (and a delicious head squishing scene), In The Tall Grass never really reaches the levels of suspense and horror that you'd hope. Patrick Wilson's over-the-top performance (although quite fun) also affects the atmosphere a little too. It actually feels as if the mystery is revealed too soon. We probably could have done with another ten to fifteen minutes before this of exploring the characters and milking their unsettling situation a little bit more. The horror of not being able to get out of the grass and not knowing why is a little more unsettling than the reason itself in my opinion.
Visually, Natali does a pretty solid job – it's actually a very good looking film and the scenes within the grass themselves are wonderfully disorientating at times. The man directed some of the most visually stunning episodes of Bryan Fuller's Hannibal so there was always a good chance it was going to be a visual treat. However 90 minutes in the grass feels like a long time (more so for some of the characters!) and it would have maybe helped if the story had ventured into other places occasionally. There are some really interesting ideas and scenes within In The Tall Grass – the one where the siblings jump above the grass so they can see where each other is, only to repeat it seconds later with vastly different results, is top notch. However a few great scenes do not make a film and this ultimately feels like a bit of a wasted opportunity.