Adaptations of Stephen King stories are all the rage in the world of horror nowadays. Just in the past three years, we’ve seen nine King adaptations, four in this year alone (Pet Sematary, Doctor Sleep, It: Chapter Two and In the Tall Grass). The latter one is the newest Netflix exclusive; and in this overflow of his adaptations, Stephen King fans will quickly find out that In the Tall Grass really isn’t a field worth investing time and getting lost in.
Cal (Avery Whitted) is driving through the American midwest with his sister Becky (Laysla De Oliveira), who’s in a later stage of pregnancy. Due to her condition, she gets sick and they stop near an abandoned church, sitting opposite of a seemingly endless field of grass. Suddenly, they hear cries for help coming from a young boy who introduces himself as Tobin (Will Buie Jr.). He tells them that he, together with his mother Natalie (Rachel Wilson) and father Ross (Patrick Wilson), got lost in the field as well. The siblings run into the grass to help, but soon they find out that this isn’t an ordinary field. The antagonist of In the Tall Grass is, in fact, a field of tall grass. It shifts place and time for the characters, like a constantly changing maze. Throughout the first act, majority of the time is spent with individuals running in grass and yelling at each other. Some eventually meet, and the two lost families get mixed up in searching.
In the Tall Grass doesn’t spend much time on set-up, as it only takes 5 minutes for the siblings to step into the field. It’s an engaging start, but after a few minutes of them running around and yelling, you not only realize that they won’t get any further development, but also that this is how the rest of the film is going to play out. Credit where credit’s due, all of the actors try to make the most out of their characters. The dialogue is bad even by the standards of a Netflix horror film, undermining ¾ of the most impactful and expository scenes of the film. Creepy kid Tobin is surprisingly consistent and manages to outshine most of his castmates, especially in the last leg of the story.
Patrick Wilson as Ross, Tobin’s dad, is the best thing the film has going for it. He’s a smug antihero, who partly admires the evil grass he’s trapped in. He gets crazier throughout the film (another King trope) reaching the level of weird enjoyability similar to that of Octavia Spencer in MA. He gets the toughest lines, but somehow manages to make “You wanna touch the rock, darlin’?” sound menacing. Now that’s talent.
The two families finally meet up halfway throughout the film, standing and talking near the actual mastermind of their situation. A giant boulder, an obelisk, from an ancient time that supposedly contains all the knowledge, including how to get out. From this point on, the film slightly kicks into gear. In a true Stephen King fashion, the film gets insane, letting all previous traces of logic go.
In the Tall Grass truly gets better, but that’s not a hard thing to do since the first half is challenging to get through. Despite all of the efforts from cinematographer Craig Wrobleski (Legion) to make a grass field as scary as possible, the film feels lazy in its execution. Whether it’s the story, the characters, the look of it or the direction, none of it feels like a fully formed idea. Everything is done halfway.
The book itself is rather short and In the Tall Grass would have worked better if it didn’t try to stretch the story into a feature film. Many scenes are dragging and there are plenty of scares existing to extend the length of the film, but not the story. The film quickly overstays its welcome and it never wins its audience back.
The film ends rather abruptly and the last 10 minutes feel disconnected and rushed. It is supposed to be an emotional sendoff to the film, but by that time you’ll most likely
In the Tall Grass takes an intriguing premise of a short story and forcefully tries to drag it out to 100 minutes. Everything going on feels lifeless and somewhat undone. Yes, the film gets better in its latter half mainly due to one great Patrick Wilson, but that’s simply not enough for anyone to step into this field.