Netflix’s adaptation of Stephen King and Joe Hill’s novella In the Tall Grass hits the streaming service this Friday, October 4, 2019.
Adapted and directed by Vincenzo Natali (The Cube), the film focuses on Cal (Avery Whitted) and his sister Becky (Laysla De Oliveira). Becky is pregnant and they are traveling across country to San Diego where she plans to give the baby up for adoption.
After a bout of morning sickness on the side of the road next to a field of grass taller than their heads, they hear a young boy’s cries for help. Stepping inside in order to help him, they soon become separated and realize there is something sinister about this particular field.
The film boasts several good performances including Oliveira who is vulnerable without being completely helpless as Becky, giving a layered performance that quickly garners sympathy from the audience.
As her brother, Whitted also gives an interesting performance. You believe that he wants to protect his sister, but at times you’re not entirely sure what motivates his protective instincts.
The real scene-stealer here, however, is Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring). Wilson took over the role of Ross, the father of Tobin AKA the boy whose cries drew Becky and Cal into the field, when James Marsden had to leave the production due to scheduling conflicts according to IMDb.
Wilson attacks the role with gusto. You’re never entirely sure which Ross will emerge from the tall grass at any given moment, and that brings its own brand of tension to the film.
In the Tall Grass is a twisting, turning narrative with a lot of moving parts. The field twists reality so that events repeat and time and space do not move the same way for everyone who finds themselves inside its boundaries. Because of this, the plot becomes fairly intricate quickly.
All of this is to say that the film is one that fairly demands the viewer’s undivided attention. If you’re going to get up to leave the room, even for a minute, pause the film. If your phone chimes and you need to answer a text, pause the film. If you don’t, you will most assuredly miss something.
This isn’t to imply that the film is too complicated, nor is it unlike other works by both King and Hill. In fact, parts of it feel eerily similar to another of King’s stories, Children of the Corn. At points, I wondered if He Who Walks Behind the Rows wasn’t somehow related to the nefarious presence inside this field which causes the mud to hold onto your shoes just a fraction of a second too long and the blades of grass to move just a little too quickly to cut exposed flesh.
Natali is, among other things, a storyboard artist, and you can see that artist’s eye in the production’s often stunning visuals. However there are moments where he almost seems to become preoccupied with the image rather than the storytelling which slows the pacing in the film.
Sadly, it becomes so heavy-handed at times that you can almost feel him pointing at an object or scene saying, “Look at what I’m showing you!” It’s jarring and can push you out of the narrative of the film.
Despite this, Into the Tall Grass is still enjoyable if not quite as terrifying as it could have been, and easy to recommend for fans of the novella on which it is based.
Into the Tall Grass debuts on Netflix on October 4, 2019. Check out the trailer below!