‘In the Tall Grass’ Can’t Reach Great Horror Standards

You’re scared of clowns, you’re scared of little twin girls; now it’s time to be afraid of grass. 

In the Tall Grass is a new Netflix release based on the Stephen King and Joe Hill co-authored novella of the same name. Though the novella only has 62 pages and is not one of King’s well-known works, Vincenzo Natali has adapted it to a feature length film starring Laysla De Oliverira, Patrick Wilson, and Harrison Gilbertson. Despite an intriguing plot premise, In the Tall Grass unfortunately feels stunted compared to recent King adaptations. 

The film opens with Becky (Oliverira) and her brother, Cal (Avery Whitted), on their way to San Diego driving through a partly deserted stretch of American countryside with endless fields of tall grass and a lone church. Becky is pregnant and a bout of morning sickness forces them to pull over where they hear the distressed calls of a young boy out in the middle of the field. The boy, Tobin (Will Buie Jr), claims to be lost and pleads for their help, which leads Becky and Cal to enter the field. It soon becomes apparent that this is one field of tall grass that people should really stay out of, but the danger is not a group of hungry raptors or a murderous cult of children but instead the grass itself. Before long the two siblings lose one another and then themselves, unable to find their way back to the road. Overtime they find Tobin and his family —including his mother, father (Wilson) and dog— also lost in the field, and soon they’re joined by Becky’s ex-boyfriend, Travis (Gilbertson), who had been searching for the two of them.

The concept of the horror allows the plot to play with time, disorientating the audience along with the characters as their individual timelines interweave and twist. Despite the characters being outside, the tall walls of grass forming a seemingly impossible maze creates a claustrophobic feel, with the environment closing in on the helpless victims as they scuttle around their encroaching graves.

As this is a King story, there is of course the added threat of morally corrupt, religiously zealous people who push a difficult situation into an almost impossible one to survive. There are ancient religious forces, a child mysteriously gifted with supernatural powers, and plenty more plot cliches to check off the King bingo card. 

The film’s horror can be unnerving, with a helpless atmosphere and seemingly limbo fate. However, despite some effective uses of horror filmmaking techniques, the film does stagger, with the real struggle being to keep up the momentum of a short novella and stretch it into a 90 minute feature. Certain story elements added to pad out the film’s run-time weren’t necessarily enlightened or even interesting additions. The acting ability in the cast can also be shaky, with even horror pro Wilson (Insidious, The Conjuring) coming off as hammy and unremarkable. 

Although this film won’t be going onto any “Best Horror” lists, it’s a perfectly fine watch this Halloween season and at least shares more King tales with a wider audience. Thanks to contrived characters and weedy acting performances, the film is bound to get lost in the endless maze of Netflix suggestions. However, for fans of King, In the Tall Grass may be an enjoyable watch and perhaps one that will encourage viewers to think twice before venturing onto local farmer’s fields.         

 

In the Tall Grass is now streaming on Netflix

by Michaela Barton

Michaela is a freelance journalist living in Glasgow who watches far too much Netflix so might as well make a career out of it. Her one true love is procrastination but she’s also a fan of feminist and queer theory, ugly dad shirts, and abducting cats. You can find her on Twitter at @MichaelaBarton_

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