In the Tall Grass (2019) Netflix Movie Review

In the Tall Grass is a 2019 Canadian supernatural horror drama film written and directed by Vincenzo Natali and starring Patrick Wilson. It is based on Stephen King and Joe Hill’s 2012 novella of the same name.

The film had its world premiere at Fantastic Fest on September 20, 2019. It was later released on October 4, 2019, by Netflix.

In The Tall Grass – Harrison Gilbertson, Laysla De Oliveira, Avery Whitted – Photo Credit: Netflix

Plot

Siblings Becky and Cal Demuth travel to San Diego so 6 months pregnant Becky can organize a way to give up her baby. While stopping outside an old church, the pair hears a young boy called Tobin shout for help from a nearby field of tall grass. They later hear his mother Natalie begging him not to call anyone in. Concerned, the pair enters but quickly gets separated and finds that their distance from one another changes strangely. Increasingly panicked, the pair decides to leave but is unable to. Night falls and Cal stumbles across a bruised Tobin who claims the grass won’t move dead things. Becky encounters Tobin’s father Ross but they get separated in the grass. Tobin leads Cal to an ancient rock in the field and encourages him to touch it, but they are interrupted by Becky who is attacked by an unseen figure.

Meanwhile, the father of Becky’s child Travis arrives looking for her and Cal. He finds their car parked outside the church and decides to investigate the field of grass, eventually stumbling across Tobin who leads him to Becky’s rotting corpse. As Travis grieves, he loses sight of Tobin. At the same time, a seemingly earlier version of Tobin arrives at the church with Natalie and Ross. Hearing Travis, who is now calling out to Tobin, their dog Freddy runs into the grass and the family runs in after him where Travis hears Tobin and looks for him. The family panics and scatters, with Ross stumbling across the rock and touching it as night falls. Morning rises and shows Becky and Cal re-entering the grass as they investigate Tobin’s cries. They find the boy and Travis and are confused at the timelines happening.

The group spots a building in the distance and walks to it and Becky receives a call from someone sounding like her, stating that they need to stop Cal hurting Travis. As they walk, the grass seemingly enters Becky’s stomach and she passes out only to be recovered by Ross who reunites with his son as the sun goes down. Ross leads them to the rock where they are confronted by a startled Natalie who claims she saw Becky’s corpse earlier and warns them not to touch the rock. Ross gets more and more agitated until the others decide to leave. He wounds Travis and kills Natalie before pursuing the others, claiming the rock showed him what is really happening and that he doesn’t want to leave.

Becky, Cal, Travis, and Tobin reach the abandoned building and while scouting, Travis and Cal discover Freddy has managed to escape the field via a hole. A jealous Cal, who is implied to have incestuous feelings for Becky, pushes Travis off the roof, alerting Ross to their location. Tobin, having witnessed Cal pushing Travis, panics, and runs into the field while Becky and Cal attempt to escape together. Becky refuses to leave Travis and goes back and as Cal flees, he is strangled to death by Ross where it is revealed they are in a time loop, permanently being hunted by an insane Ross in the grass. Travis is revealed to have survived and goes looking for Becky. They can hear each other on opposite sides of the field and Becky admits her plan was to give up the baby but she has decided against it.

Becky is attacked and sexually assaulted by Ross but escapes as a rainstorm hits the field. Becky is confronted by Grass Creatures who carry her to the rock which has prophetic markings relating to Becky’s pregnancy. After seeing a horrific vision underneath the rock, Becky passes out. She awakens to find Cal who cares for her and feeds her with what is revealed to be her baby. “Cal” is revealed to be Ross and Travis stumbles across her unconscious body. Tobin finds him and they are confronted by Ross who mortally wounds Travis. As Ross tries to make Tobin touch the rock, Becky saves him before dying from her wounds. Travis kills Ross, then realising the only way to understand the grass is to touch the rock, he does so, seeing a series of strange visions. He grabs Tobin’s hand, takes him through the grass and drops him through a hole, instructing him to stop Becky and Cal entering the grass.

Tobin emerges in the church in the past and manages to stop Becky and Cal from entering the grass, hence closing the loop. Becky decides to keep her baby as they drive back to the station. Travis listens to them leave and dies peacefully in the grass.

My Personal Thoughts

Stephen King has written a wide variety of horror stories over the decades, and family lies at the heart of many. From the relationship between Carrie and her mom to the characters torn apart by grief in Pet Sematary or the Losers’ Club in It, King remains fascinated by the way family units deal with terrifying threats, whether external or internal. King himself is a family man whose sons–Joe Hill and Owen King–are writers themselves. In the Tall Grass was his second collaboration with Joe; published in two parts in Esquire magazine in 2012, it once again deals with dads, moms, and siblings in a fight for survival against supernatural forces. It’s also the latest King story to be adapted to the screen, and the movie version hits Netflix this week.

In the Tall Grass has a simple premise. A young, pregnant woman named Becky (Laysla De Oliveira) and her brother Cal (Avery Whitted) are passing through rural Kansas on their way to San Diego. While taking a break by the side of a huge field, they hear a boy crying for help, claiming to be lost in the tall grass. Becky and Cal enter the field and find themselves separated and also lost, unable to find a way out. Soon they realise that there are others in the grass with them, and that strange things are happening.

This is a great set-up for a spooky yarn, and it’s easy to see why writer/director Vincenzo Natali was drawn to it. Natali made his directing debut with a classic of claustrophobic scares–the 1997 sci-fi favorite Cube–and the first 20 minutes of In the Tall Grass are suspenseful, scary, and stylishly shot. Once we move into the field, the camera stays close on the characters, letting the grass surround them and creating a sense of increasing unease. Natali crosscuts between Becky, Cal, and Tobin (Will Buie Jr.), the young boy, and uses sound to increase the disorientation as their voices move, seemingly impossibly, around the field. We feel real fear for their situation, which is increased by the fact that Becky is visibly pregnant. Daylight horror is a difficult thing to pull off, and for a while, Natali does so masterfully.

But what makes the first section so effective–the claustrophobic supernatural mystery of being trapped in a field that seems to have its own rules of time and space–ultimately becomes an issue as more characters and subplots are introduced. We meet Tobin’s parents Ross (Patrick Wilson) and Natalie (Rachel Wilson, no relation), who have been trapped in the grass for some time. Ross, in particular, seems remarkably unconcerned by the situation, and as the film continues, it becomes clear that the threat isn’t just the fact they cannot leave the field. Patrick Wilson uses his natural charm to win the audience’s sympathy, then shows a darker side that we don’t see very often from the actor.

Unfortunately, nothing else that the movie offers is very interesting, and it quickly stops being scary. Some intriguing initial ideas, such as the time loops that seem to exist within the grass, are largely abandoned for repetitive and formulaic scenes of the characters being chased round the field by one of the group who has gone bad. Becky is the only character given any particular depth or backstory, but the only thing the arrival of her ex-boyfriend at the midway point accomplishes is providing yet another unsympathetic potential victim. Explanations of the field’s supernatural power, which seems to derive from a huge rock, are frustratingly vague, and hints at some wider Lovecraftian mythology are underdeveloped. Mystery and ambiguity can be a powerful weapon for horror filmmakers, but here these elements just comes across as poorly explained rather than deliberately abstract.

In scenes of “In the Tall Grass” are its most effective, such as the aforementioned jumping scene and the panic that sets in when Cal and Becky realize there’s no way out of their predicament. Imagine being caught in a maze that’s always moving and changing. I wish Natali had spent more time in this phase of his story, allowing the true horror of the dynamic to seep into our bones. Would you just curl up and cry? And how would you respond if you found someone in the grass like Ross, someone who sets off all alarm bells in terms of trust but could be your only salvation? Natali moves too quickly from the atmospheric dread of Cal and Becky’s situation to, without spoiling anything, the more “unusual” aspects of what’s going on in the field, including a rock that may have special powers. He even introduces a bit of temporal displacement to the source material that feels unnecessary. It’s as if everyone involved thought the story needed more than it really does to be effective.

There are a lot of Stephen King movies and shows around at the moment, and the huge success of It: Chapter 2 has ensured that this situation won’t be changing any time soon. In the Tall Grass is hardly the worst of recent adaptations, especially when compared to the woeful Dark Tower movie or the mercifully short-lived TV version of The Mist. But it’s yet further proof that not everything the great man writes–or co-writes–necessarily works on the screen. In the Tall Grass might provide a few chills for undemanding fans gorging on horror movies throughout October, but will be quickly forgotten as the next dozen King adaptations roll around.

I will rate this movie 8/10

Directed byVincenzo Natali
Produced by Steve Hoban Jimmy Miller M. Riley
Screenplay byVincenzo Natali
Based onIn the Tall Grass
by Stephen King and Joe Hill
StarringPatrick Wilson
Harrison Gilbertson
Rachel Wilson
Music byMark Korven
CinematographyCraig Wrobleski
Edited byMichele Conroy
Production
company
Copperheart Entertainment
Distributed byNetflix
Release date September 20, 2019 (Fantastic Fest) September 27, 2019 (Vancouver International Film Festival)
Running time90 minutes
CountryCanada
LanguageEnglish
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