In the Tall Grass Review: Interesting in concept, confounding in execution
It’s that time again, the third time this year, to review another adaptation of the works of Stephen King – and, in this case, his son Joe Hill. Netflix is no stranger to adapting the works of King and has actually found some success with adaptations of Gerald’s Game and 1922 and with their newest adaptation of the 2012 novella by King and Hill, In the Tall Grass, one of their most mind-bending stories comes to life – for better or worse.
The film follows siblings Becky (Laysla De Oliveira), who is pregnant, and Cal (Avery Whitted) as they drive past a large field of tall grass on their way to San Diego. As they stop for a brief moment, they begin to hear cries for help from a young boy (Will Buie Jr.) out in the field. As they enter the field to help the lost boy find his family, they are unable to find their way out and realize that the grass seemingly has an intense power that keeps them trapped. Now, out of options as night takes over, the two discover that the grass has a sinister power over those who enter it and must find a way out.
Honestly, I never thought that grass and rocks could be scary, but director Vincenzo Natali definitely makes a strong case for it with the great way he captures them throughout the film. With great overhead shots that show how vast this field of tall grass really is and some tight shots that always have the grass protruding into the camera frame, the grass has this ominous presence that’s kept throughout the entire film. It’s almost as if the grass is a character in itself and it makes being within the maze-like field more appealing and, honestly, a little scary at times. Even the rock that’s at the center of the field has this daunting and dominant presence to it that makes it a fearsome figure every time the group runs into it.
Natali also includes some very creepy imagery that’s spread throughout the entire film and the film delves into more psychological fears that the characters are internally battling with one another. From the issues that Cal has with Becky’s boyfriend Travis (Harrison Gilbertson) to how Ross (Patrick Wilson) feels about his family, the grass preys upon these conflicts and seeks to have them spill out at the most inopportune moments. There’s also some very creepy elements and imagery that come into play when the grass’ cultish characters start to make things difficult for the group. Even just seeing the number of cars and their age as they sit outside the field shows how long the grass has lured people in and it sets a creepy tone for the entity as a whole.
However, none of these scary elements ever come into play to make Into the Tall Grass a scary watch as the film is just baffling to watch when the time-changing elements and supernatural elements come to light. At first, I actually really enjoyed the concept and idea of what the grass actually does with those that enter it and the time loop that they are stuck in, but things just get more and more confusing from there. The film never explains anything that’s ever happening, and it leads to a film that only creates questions with no answers. Its supernatural grass cult isn’t explored into much depth, some scenes were so confusing and under-explained that I had no clue what was really happening, and the end only left me with more questions that the film never gives any concrete answers. It’s the kind of movie that requires viewers to look up answers afterwards and it’s incredibly unsatisfying.
Even while I praise Natali for his strong direction in creating a strong, daunting atmosphere, I wish the same could be said about the characters and some of the dialogue. Everyone for the most part is fine; however, the dialogue is oddly silly at times with characters reciting strange rhymes and having odd phrasing for the moment. Especially for Wilson, who gives, what I assume is, an unintentionally funny performance when Ross touches the rock and grows a deep obsession with the power of the grass. The way his madness and obbession is just too hard to laugh at and Wilson’s delivery is so over the top that the feat of taking it seriously becomes impossible. There’s definitely something about the characters and the story of the grass that’s interesting, but the dialogue and confounding delivery of the story makes it too hard to take these characters seriously and stay engaged with the story.
While I can surely say that In the Tall Grass is a King adaptation unlike most others, it’s necessarily for the right reasons. It’s scary elements, which surprisingly are grass and rocks, are constantly overshadowed by a story that’s too complicated and the little explanation provided to make viewers to stop asking questions that the film will never answer. Netflix has surely had some gems with adapting King’s work – it’s just unfortunate that In the Tall Grass isn’t one of them.