As of time of writing, Netflix produced Stephen King adaptations are about 50/50 when it comes to quality. While Mike Flanagan’s production of Gerald’s Game was a stirring, low key masterclass in suspense, crusty period piece 1922 was a horror at a snail’s pace but now we have In The Tall Grass, a movie based on the short story collaboration between King and his son Joe Hill, a renowned author in his own right. Between them the duo have conjured up various bizarre and off-beat concepts over the years (for example King once penned a story about the boot of a Buick being the doorway to a nightmarish dimension while Hill once jotted a tale about a day when it rains razor spikes) but maybe the antagonist of this story could be both their weirdest horror yet.
Are you ready for… killer grass?
Pregnant Becky and her brother Cal are on a drive through America’s heartland when a pit stop next to a large field of tall foliage puts a sizable dent in their travel plans. Upon hearing the voice of Tobin, a child lost in the grass, the siblings try to find him only to find that they get eventually lost themselves. But this isn’t your conventional kind of lost; the field seemingly goes on forever and voices carry in bizarre ways and soon the two realise they aren’t the only ones trapped here. Joining them are Tobin’s mother and father and eventually Travis, the father of Becky’s child who claims they’ve actually been missing for months.
It turns out that the field is somewhat of a nexus in both time and reality, where the past and present collide with alternate eventualities to create a vastly confusing time loop in which each lost person was lulled into the grass by a past or future version of someone else. As everyone wanders around as blind as if their heads are cosmically stuffed up their bums, it becomes apparent that a huge monolithic rock with strange markings on it is causing the anomaly and has the ability to corrupt the mind with a touch. As an already batshit situation gets even further out of control, is there any hope of anyone escaping this hellish plot of greenery or will they be cursed to be trapped in this hellish predicament to be killed over and over for all of eternity?
Directed by Vincenzo Natali (who gave us cult sci-fi oddity Cube, so he should know a thing or two about people wandering aimlessly in repetitive surroundings) In The Tall Grass, despite some early twinges of dread and a set up that feels like all the shit pieces of Children Of The Corn have been surgically removed (people trapped by plant life that alters victims thoughts in order to be worshiped) the movie is soon tripped up by a fatal flaw – the fact that people wandering through grass for nearly 2 hours isn’t really that interesting. Oh sure, some cool shit happens here and there and the concept is nice and twisty but the truth remains that other movies have been made with similar plots that have gotten their scares across far better (Christopher Smith’s Triangle, for example, is vastly superior).
It’s not only the characters who get lost in the grass as the actors mostly fail to make much of an impact either with only good old dependable Patrick Wilson standing out in the criss crossing timeline and even then his job is only to be possessed and stalk the others.
Apart from fitting in more directionless plodding than a ring bearing Hobbit, the characters arcs seen hopelessly lost too, with potboiling subplots about Becky planning to abort her baby and Cal’s true motivations for protecting his sister barely peeking through the weeds.
With the occasional jarring image breaking cover every so often to hold your attention which include a vision of plant life choking out a baby still in the womb and grass-faced acolytes of the big creepy rock, In The Long Grass is ways off from being a bad film and all involved should be commended for making it last for a whole feature but it’s ultimately too samey to lock your interest in a vice the way a movie like this should.
Many movie adaptations of King’s work have (and stop me if I’ve stated this before) struggled to translate his furtive imagination to the screen resulting in things that chilled the blood on the page simply not making the transition to “real life” particularly well and unfortunately this is yet another such example.
Sadly, despite the imput of two legitimate masters of their craft, In The Tall Grass is in dire need of some serious landscaping.