Review: ‘In the Tall Grass’

The film genre of horror is no stranger to evil countryside or greenery, take Day of the Triffids, Invasion of the Body Snatchers or even Little Shop of Horrors. However the new Netflix adaptation of Stephen King’s and Joe Hill’s latest novella, In the Tall Grass fails to make a large field of tall grass any scarier than that. 

Released on the 4th of October 2019, In the Tall Grass was directed and written by Vincenzo Natali. The film follows Becky (Laysla De Oliveria) and Cal (Avery Whitted) as they journey to San Fransisco to start their new lives. The siblings stop at a gas station when heavily pregnant Becky needs to relieve herself. It is then that they hear a child’s voice shouting for help from inside a field of very tall grass. They reluctantly step into the field (of very long grass) in search of Tobin (Will Buie Jr.), only to get ridiculously lost because the field (of very long grass) is not as harmless as it appears. They realised they are stuck in the field (of very long grass) with, brace yourselves, a giant rock! Travis (Harrison Gilbertson), Becky’s ex-boyfriend goes searching for the mother of his child only to find himself lost in the grass as well. Running from extraterrestrial threats, boulders and one very human danger, the group fight to get out of the field (you get the gag) alive.

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The film runs just a little over 90 minutes but feels like it is never going to end. The story starts strong, we are introduced to Becky and Cal, who’s relationship is odd in a way you can’t quite put your finger on. Watching them roam around the field, coming so close to finding each other only to be torn apart again is nail-biting. Natali successfully builds frustration and tension by showing us the characters trying to rectify an illogical situation with logic, the camerawork often teasing at the freedom they are so desperate to achieve. However, that is the only strong set piece of the film, once we have established that the grass is the main antagonist, the film slowly descends into a repetitive, banal nature documentary that not even David Attenborough could make interesting. 

What makes a horror film scary is the humans in it and that is often the precise reason Stephen King’s writing is revered as some of the best horror writing in the history of the genre. Granted the book is co-written by his son, but regardless of authorship, the story failed to provide any detailed human interest. Humans are often the scariest part of a horror film, not the monsters under the bed, or in this case the grass growing out of the ground. It’s the people that you can’t run from, the monsters that won’t disappear just because you stop being afraid, that’s what makes your blood run cold and the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. There is one fleeting moment, where it seemed like we were going to learn more about the characters we were meant to fear for, but rather than fleshing the scene out we get an underdeveloped, vague two minutes of dialogue before we return to the swirling blades of grass and shadowy figures.

To make a long story short, a concept this film was not familiar with, In the Tall Grass proves that you can only go so far before grass is just grass and is pathetically upstaged by… a rock! On a winding road to make a horror film with semi-profound commentary on the human condition, Natali took one too many wrong turns and his storytelling got just as lost as his characters did.

Image Credit: Horror News Network