And the Stephen King renaissance marches on. Not unlike the the first wave of King adaptations, horror fans have been treated to the good (Gerald’s Game, It), the middle-of-the-road (Pet Sematary), and the bad (The Dark Tower). Now with Halloween around the corner, Netflix has unveiled its Netflix and Chills lineup. Among the new horror titles, Netflix released the latest King adaptation, In The Tall Grass. King wrote the novella with son, Joe, several years ago. Given Netflix’s past successes with King translations, In The Tall Grass looked promising. So did Netflix drop another Gerald’s Game, or is In The Tall A Grass another Dreamcatcher?
Sister and brother, Becky and Cal, are on a roadtrip to San Diego. Preganant and abandoned by her boyfriend, Travis, Becky plans to give her child away to an adoptive family. But when the siblings stop for a break at a small roadside church, they hear a young boy’s cries for help from a field of tall grass. Both Becky and Call run into the field to find the boy, Tobin. However, the siblings quickly become lost in rows of grass. Soon they discover that Tobin’s parents are lost, too. And as day passes to night, they learn that time works very differently in the tall grass where a malevolent force waits for them.
Stunning Visuals Can’t Hide Empty Scares
If In The Tall Grass does something very well, it’s the visuals. Few horror movies look this good. Cinematographer Craig Wrobleski takes the movie’s small, confined setting and makes it as vast as the premise requires. Wrobleski’s stunning, bright visuals – the vibrant greens of the grass, most notably – make for an interesting contrast with the dark subject matter. In spite of what was likely a modest budget, In the Tall Grass’ effects, including the briefly revealed ‘Grass Creatures’, similarly impress. Clearly, there’s a lot of technical skill behind the movie. Not even impressive visuals, however, can compensate for the movie’s lack of scares. Director Vincenzo Natali is certainly no stranger to the genre. His past work includes underrated Canadian gems Cube and Splice.
In spite of his best efforts, Natali can’t make tall grass overly dreadful.
On the one hand, Natali wastes little time setting the story the motion. In The Tall Grass puts its characters in danger in very short order. Initially, Natali is able to conjure up an ominous tone and a promise of scares. But it doesn’t take long for the atmosphere to give way to more standard jumps and light gore. In spite of his best efforts, Natali can’t make tall grass overly dreadful. In part, this is the challenge filmmakers face when adapting King’s works. On the page, an author can spend pages investing an idea with chilling overtures. Comparatively, filmmakers are limited by what they can visually depict with time constraints. And on the screen, tall grass makes for poor villain.
Time Loops Aside, In the Tall Grass Runs Out of Ideas
If some King’s work seems too long to pack into a two-hour movie, In The Tall Grass feels like there just wasn’t enough story with which to work. Even as time loops and a bit of mythology are introduced to the story, the movie feels like it runs out of ideas quickly. Maybe the movie plays its more mysterious elements too closely to the vest. A little ambiguity works better in horror than lazy exposition. Nevertheless, In The Tall Grass feels like leaves too much left unexplored. For much of the movie, there isn’t a clear danger aside from rows of tall grass. What little the movie chooses to give us is simply not enough to get under your skin.
A little ambiguity works better in horror than lazy exposition. Nevertheless, In The Tall Grass feels like leaves too much left unexplored.
None of the blame should fall on the actors. All of the performance in this Netflix adaptation are impressive. With his expanding horror resume, Patrick Wilson (Insidious, The Conjuring) is slowly becoming the Peter Cushing of this generation. A highly capable and respected actor, Wilson always elevates the material with which he’s working. As the movie’s human antagonist, Wilson dials things up from sleazy to menacing in convincing fashion. Though Wilson’s co-stars will be less familiar to audiences, they’re all equally up to the task. Laysla De Oliveira, as Becky, carries much of the dramatically heavy material. Like Wilson, she impresses with the material, but all the characters feel a bit underwritten.
In The Tall Grass Another Middle-of-the Road Miss
In The Tall Grass is, by no means, a bad movie. Call it middle-of-the-road or a well-intentioned misfire, but it’s not bad. To some extent, In The Tall Grass is limited by its setting and the premise itself. The end result is a little surprising given Natali’s experience with confined settings and tense atmosphere. Ultimately, as good as the movie looks, In The Tall Grass is never consistently scary or suspenseful. Moreover, it’s an oddly disconnected movie; you never feel fully invested in what’s happening. The movie can’t find enough tension out its set-up. Or maybe tall grass just isn’t that scary.