The latest in a recent surge of Netflix conversions of King family books is the book, In the Tall Grass. A short novel written collaboratively between the legendary Stephen King and his son, the brilliant Joe Hill (Hillstrom King).
It follows the excellent Gerald’s Game and equally good, 1922. Two more Netflix funded conversions that I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s quite nice really. There have been so many misses with King conversions, I almost started dreading them as I felt a bad film insulted and damaged the reputation of the good book. Now, a couple good ones in a row and I am excited when I hear of another one coming. Even more so when it involves the writings of Joe Hill. I love his books. Well, the ones I have read so far including the brilliant The Fireman, the creepy collection Strange Weather and the chilling, NOS4R2.
When siblings Becky and Cal hear the cries of a young boy lost within a field of tall grass, they venture in to rescue him, only to become ensnared themselves by a sinister force that quickly disorients and separates them. Cut off from the world and unable to escape the field’s tightening grip, they soon discover that the only thing worse than getting lost is being found.
In the Tall Grass was directed by Vincenzo Natali. Natali is the director of movies like Splice and Cube as well as the television series’s The Strain and Westworld, to name just a few. Cube is probably the perfect CV reference for In the Tall Grass. Cube focused on a small group trapped in a maze they can’t seem to escape from while being attacked by the sentient like maze and its traps. In the Tall Grass features a small group trapped in a maze like field of tall grass they can’t seem to escape from while facing similar dangers.
In the Tall Grass sees a car containing the heavily pregnant Becky (Laysla De Oliveira) and her brother Cal (Avery Whitted) pull over beside a field full of lush tall grass in Kansas near an abandoned church. They hear cries for help from a small boy within the grass and Becky runs in to help him despite Carl’s protests. Eventually Cal heads in after his sister and we now have three separated people in the grass. They try to find each other but can’t, seemingly getting further away from each other as they move towards each other’s voices. You see this isn’t a normal field. Of course it isn’t. The group within the grass grows using some interesting time manipulation ideas.
The boy, Tobin (Will Buie Jr) is found and soon joined by his mother Natalie (Rachel Wilson) and father, Ross (Patrick Wilson). Finally, a non book character, Travis (Harrison Gilbertson), joins the group. Travis is the father of Becky’s unborn child and Cal’s mortal enemy.
So the group find each other, get separated, find the deceased bodies of each other, find each other alive again in a horror styled Groundhog Day they just can’t escape as something altogether more sinister eminates from the centre of the field, ensuring they don’t leave and don’t live. In the creepy words of one character “Dead things are easier to find”.
Let’s get the book conversion thing out of the way first. On that side of things it’s a complete failure. A sinister and creepy short story that is too short for a film has been stretched beyond recognition. A new character is added, in Travis. That’s pretty normal for conversions but the film makes his story the many arc. So, from Travis early arrival in the film, the book is essentially chucked away as Natali looks to stretch the film as long as he can. This also includes rewriting the ending completely. The ending, to be fair, isn’t bad. It’s just different so not really a conversion and more of a rewrite.
If you are a fan of stories being complete without remaining plot holes, man this is gonna piss you off. To say things are left unexplained is an understatement. What was the grass’s central power source? It’s purpose? It’s origins? Why is Cal so weird? Nothing gets answered so I can see a lot of people being frustrated by that.
On the other hand, if you can enjoy a film for what it is and are happy to be left confused, In the Tall Grass is a bit of a treat. Visually I think it is amazing. Yes there are long lingering grass shots from all sorts of angles and zooms. If they are pretty and creepy and seem to show the grass as being alive. In that they add to the overall feel of the film.
Patrick Wilson is absolutely superb as well. He really goes for it and throws everything he has into the role managing to be funny, terrifying and mesmerising with ease. The rest of the cast should take note. Other than a few early moments from Becky, the other actors are dire and wooden. Cal in particular is so bad you find yourself willing the grass to please kill him next. To be fair, on this form, if you just chucked Patrick Wilson in a field of grass and had him run around like he does here, it could be worth watching too.
Overall I think In the Tall Grass will divide fans of film. Those who hate the unexplained story and plot holes won’t be pleased. Those who can let that go and just enjoy the film without thinking too much should find an interesting and creepy story too enjoy.
I fit more in the latter half. I found In the Tall Grass to be interesting and creepy. The visuals are great and Patrick Wilson is worth the admission price alone. I would have liked things explained a bit but can live with the gaps if the rest is enjoyable. And it is. Besides, if you want things to make perfect sense, perhaps King conversions aren’t for you. In the Tall Grass is a bad conversion but a decent film. There are terrible acting sequences, generally saved by Patrick Wilson’s role. Not brilliant. Not bad either.
In the Tall Grass (2019)