In the Tall Grass is the third Netflix feature to be adapted from a story by Stephen King, following Gerald’s Game and 1922. In the Tall Grass is based on a novella the horror legend wrote in collaboration with his son, Joe Hill.
Siblings Becky (Laysla De Oliveira) and Cal DeMuth (Avery Whitted) are driving cross country to an appointment but are forced to stop by the side of the road when pregnant Becky becomes nauseous. Pulling over near an old run-down church, surrounded by fields of seemingly endless, towering green grass, they are about to hit the road once more when they hear a cry for help emanating from within.
It becomes apparent that a child has become lost and, without really thinking things through, Cal takes off into the grass to find him, with an apprehensive Becky in tow. It does not take long for the pair to become lost themselves in the disorientating field. The situation becoming ever more desperate as the day draws to a close.
During the course of the search, Cal and Becky find the child, Tobin (Will Buie Jr.), and his parents Natalie (Rachel Wilson) and Ross (Patrick Wilson), as well as their friend, Travis (Harrison Gilbertson), who has set out looking for them. Together they must navigate the strange supernatural orientation of the field and find their way back to the road.
In the Tall Grass’ opening half hour is highly effective. We’re immediately thrown right into things and the brisk pace never lets up. While it might not terrify outright, it’s certainly an efficiently nervy and anxious opening. Becky and Cal and Travis are so close to their starting point, but are unable to get any bearing whatsoever, the grass being too tall to allow them to see any landmark that might provide a sense of direction.
To make something as innocuous as grass seem unnerving is quite an achievement. In the Tall Grass begins as a slice of rural horror in the grand humanity vs nature tradition, but this being a Stephen King yarn, things inevitably gain a supernatural flavour.
This straightforward tussle with arable land develops into something far more abstract as the group encounters a strange, occult rock in the centre of a clearing. The rock is covered with ancient symbols and pictograms that might hold the secret to what’s going on. Before long, the film twists and turns around on itself, much like the mysterious field they are trying to navigate.
Director Vincenzo Natali’s debut was the excellent cult sci-fi / horror movie Cube, and In the Tall Grass shares a similar sensibility in its exploration of the unknown. In both movies a small group of protagonists find themselves in a deadly situation where the first option is survival. An explanation, and the bigger picture answers we want, is a luxury they can’t afford to spend time on.
Natali effectively disorients us as we join Becky and Cal among the crops and as things progress in ever stranger and darker directions, there’s a bit of a mid-period John Carpenter feel to things. Both Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness come to mind when In the Tall Grass starts to get surreal and brings in ancient, elemental powers.
In the Tall Grass is not flashy but it sets out with a job to do, and does well to fully explore its interesting concept. It doesn’t scare in the overt manner of King’s classic work, but it’s sufficiently weird and dark enough to keep us intrigued. In the run up to Halloween, this modest, yet original horror movie will be a welcome addition to your Shocktober list.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★☆☆
‘In the Tall Grass’ can be seen on Netflix right HERE.