Film Reviews

31 Days of Halloween: In the Tall Grass

The Stephen King-aissance continues with another Netflix original, In the Tall Grass. Adapted from a 2012 novella co-written by King and his son Joe Hill, this film arrives while It: Chapter 2 is still in theaters and Doctor Sleep is just a month away from debuting. The new Pet Sematary, meanwhile, is now on home video. That’s without getting into Castle Rock: Season 2, which doesn’t directly adapt any of King’s work but instead uses all of them as a roadmap for a shared universe where Jack Torrance’s niece can live in the same town as a youngish Annie Wilkes.

Everything’s coming up King, basically. However, King has been around so long we’ve already gone through several cycles where there suddenly seems to be a new King adaptation – either movie or TV show – every other month. You go in hoping for Misery or The Shining, but most of the time you walk away having just seen Graveyard Shift or some B-movie weirdness, like Lawnmower Man, which can only in the most technical sense be considered a King adaptation.

In this current cycle, it’s been a couple of years since we’ve seen something I would call outright bad. 2017’s The Dark Tower movie and The Mist TV series both seem so long ago now. Of everything which has come out since then, It: Chapter 1 is a modern Stephen King classic, 1922 and Gerald’s Game rank among his best, and Pet Sematary and It: Chapter 2 have their moments.

Perhaps, then, we were overdo for an outright dud. Maybe that’s why I don’t even mind the 101 minutes I lost to watching In the Tall Grass. It was there, it cost me nothing other than time, and while it ultimately goes nowhere and fizzles out in the end – like so many other King stories – it does at least have Patrick Wilson providing a pretty sweet a capella version of “Midnight Special.” Not too shabby.

What’s It About?

Some people get lost in a tall grass field which seems plagued by various supernatural forces. Bad, trippy, downright confusing shit happens, as in someone-is-strangled-to-death-while-staring-at-his-own-corpse confusing.

Could You Be a Little More Specific?

Becky (Laysla De Oliveira) and Cal Demuth (Avery Whitted) are traveling through rural Kansas en route to San Diego. She’s 6-months pregnant and still mulling over whether to keep her baby or give it up for adaptation. He’s doing his best to be unconditionally supportive. The father isn’t in the picture anymore. Their paternal instincts are quickly put to the test when they overhear a child named Tobin (Will Buie Jr.) calling for help from inside a nearby grass field. Within moments of heading in after him, they’re separated, and every effort they make to find each other only puts them further apart.

They’re not the only ones lost, though. Tobin’s parents – Natalie (Rachel Wilson) and Ross (Patrick Wilson) are also in there with them, and they too were separated as soon as they entered. When one of them finally finds Tobin, he appears to have been in there for months and seems to know more about their situation than he’s letting on.

There’s a mystery afoot!

Well, yes, that and a LOT of scenes of people wandering aimlessly through tall grass, yelling out for help, following the faint echoes of other voices, and encountering a series of clues which will only kinda, sorta make sense once you get to the third act.

Why I Watched It

I’m a glutton for punishment? I feel duty-bound to watch just about any new Stephen King adaptation? The trailer at least made it look interesting? Take your pick; they all apply.

Did I Like It?

I feel like I beat myself to the punch with that intro, but in case you didn’t pick up on it, no, I did not like In the Tall Grass.

There is a very good hook here: people get lost in a field which might not really be a field, and some of the people might not actually even be human. It’s why when I first saw the trailer last month I immediately started joke-theorizing with others on Twitter about what the big twist was going to be. Are they all dead? Did they accidentally wander into a Children of the Corn situation? Was the opening to the field actually a portal to some other dimension?

For a while, In the Tall Grass seems set to deliver on all of that promise. It even does something I completely didn’t expect. Spoiler: time loops. All I’m saying.

However, when the mystery turns toward confrontation it plays far too much like a Stephen King madlib. There are definite strands of The Shining and Desperation baked into Patrick Wilson’s character going from an always-on-his-phone realtor to a murderous monster who casually quotes dad rock and fanatically speaks of a new higher power. Wilson, to be fair, plays the always-stalking, oddly all-knowing villain to chilling perfection, and once the death scenes commence director Vincenzo Natali knows how to walk the fine line between showing us the gore and implying it.

It’s the “here’s what’s really happening” third act explanation which truly disappoints. Perhaps it shouldn’t. After all, King’s tendency toward lackluster finales is so well-known It: Chapter 2 not only includes a running meta-joke about it but actually has a store keep played by King himself comment on it. However, In the Tall Grass isn’t just a King story; it’s also a Joe Hill story. Perhaps the son would act as a balance on the father. Maybe Joe actually plans out his stories unlike his dad, who famously makes them up as he goes along. Joe, after all, is the one who helped King author an alternate ending to 11/22/63. Put the two of them together, and I like those odds.

Or at least I did until I saw where In the Tall Grass goes with everything. It has a good hook and a well-done slasher-esque middle but the rather confusing conclusion drags it all down.

Did It Scare Me?

No.

Where to Stream

Netflix

But Maybe Watch This Instead

1922. Like In The Tall Grass, it’s a Netflix Original adaptation of a Stephen King novella and does devote a lot of screentime to shots of people in fields. In this case, a Nebraska farmer (Thomas Jane) and his son murder the matriarch of the family to prevent her from selling the farm to a sharecropper. Their lives slowly fall apart after that, as either supernatural forces, karmic justice, their guilty consciences, or all three combine to punish them for getting away with murder. It’s perhaps a little more slow-moving than it needs to be and Thomas Jane’s bizarre accent borders on the mockable, but it’s a film which has only improved the more I’ve had time to reflect on it. It’s Stephen King merging Steinbeck with Edgar Allan Poe and throwing in a little bit of Willard for the skin-crawling heck of it.

31 Days of Halloween So Far:

Next Up: Something else Stephen King related.

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2 comments

  1. There was a large part of this movie filmed right outside of my town, and I have never seen a movie that our locals built up in hype fall as flat as this one did. I’m not one for King movies, I have seen the Stand, Dark Tower and the Shining; but this one just looked a little lackluster. I’m glad that I didn’t take the time to watch it.

    1. Plus side, that’s cool about the movie being filmed so close to you. Downside, yeah, it’s not a very good movie.

      But how many people get to drive by a field or whatever and wave at it and say, “They filmed a Stephen King movie right over there.” Given that you’ll have just said “Stephen King movie” in that hypothetical, anyone listening to you would have to know it’s a real crapshoot as to whether the movie is any good. Law of averages, they adapt Stephen King so often that it doesn’t always work out so well for anyone. In the Tall Grass just happens to be one of those times. Still, “I know where a bad movie was filmed” is better than “nothing of note has eve been made remotely close to where I live.”

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