Director: Vincenzo Natali
Writer: Vincenzo Natali
Producer: Steven Hoban, Mark Smith, Jimmy Miller, M. Riley
Stars: Harrison Gilbertson, Laysla De Oliveira, Avery Whitted, Will Buie Jr., Rachel Wilson, Patrick Wilson
Two families come together to confront their demons when they become hopelessly lost in a supernatural field of tall grass.
A 2,000-mile road trip will give you perspective on America like nothing else can. When you live in a dense urban metropolis, it¡¯s easy to overlook that the country is inconceivably enormous. Wide expanses of unpopulated land stretch for hundreds of miles without a single soul or structure in sight.
Reflecting on that can be both inspiring and terrifying. Ever been down a remote road that starts with a sign warning, ¡°last gas for 150 miles?¡± Your sole companion on an overnight drive lit only by headlights is an alert imagination mulling the many ways you could go missing in the middle of nowhere. These areas may as well exist in alternate dimensions because without cellphone reception or surveillance systems, there¡¯s no hope of someone finding out where you went or what happened when you¡¯re outside the eyes of civilization.
On top of the helpless feeling, it¡¯s easier to believe something supernatural could occur out in that unknown black hole of farmland and desert. Far more than in the city anyway, where rescue and logic always appear reasonably within reach.
Stephen King understands how countryside can be uniquely chilling with its endless capacity for cloaking macabre mysteries. This speaks to why he and Joe Hill revisit familiar territory with their collaborative ¡°In the Tall Grass¡± novella. With its Podunk pagan cult and unseen figures tittering behind ominous green stalks, ¡°In the Tall Grass¡± may read like a ¡°Children of the Corn¡± stepsibling in more ways than one.
For director Vincenzo Natali, this intangibly menacing setting offers an ingenious means of controlling production costs, because most of the movie plays with only long lengths of grass as a backdrop. However, He Who Walks Behind the Row¡¯s Advocate may counter that 100 minutes can be a tiresome time for restless viewers to spend circling the same monochromatic location.
100 minutes is nothing compared to how long the men and women of the movie spend in the grass. On their way to San Diego, Cal and his pregnant sister Becky stop by the side of a Kansas road. From a vast field, they hear the pleading cries of Tobin, a boy lost in long blades rising above their heads. Cal and Becky venture into the grass to rescue Tobin, but become separated and inexplicably lost in a seemingly supernatural maze.
Two months later, Becky¡¯s estranged boyfriend Travis comes looking for the siblings. He finds them, but becomes unable to leave the field too. Here¡¯s where it gets weirder. Cal and Becky claim they¡¯ve only been lost a few moments. Tobin claims he knows Travis, even though Travis never met the boy before in his life. Clouds only start parting when Travis meets Tobin¡¯s father, who has a curious connection to a massive black rock in the field, and when Tobin takes Travis to Becky¡¯s corpse. Travis and the others learn the grass doesn¡¯t just defy the laws of physics. It defies their concepts of time and reality as well.
How many thrills can be wrung from a premise where six people are trapped in an inescapable maze of grass? Some, not terribly many, would be the boringly basic answer to that question.
Suspense certainly stems from the claustrophobic conundrum as well as several spectral scenes of prophetic deaths. ¡°In the Tall Grass¡± clips the hurdles in between these visions of entranced eeriness. Core characters occupy a love triangle where a woman must come to terms with the father who abandoned her unborn child while a brother whose extreme investment in her well-being doesn¡¯t appear entirely platonic. This checks the conflict box, but their situation isn¡¯t exciting enough to drive drama as engaging as intermittent ghoulishness.
Even though their names won¡¯t be added to any map, the cast works well enough together, particularly Patrick Wilson putting another notch on his post as horror¡¯s go-to guy for spontaneously swooning crooning. Yet simple characters who don¡¯t demand emotional investment lessen the acting¡¯s intended impact. Endearment out of arm¡¯s reach detaches us from feeling the full force of the maze¡¯s madness too. We¡¯re not nearly as wrapped up in wonderment over the field¡¯s ins and outs as we should be, never mind caring where the relationships will land. That¡¯s on the middling melodrama as much as the cryptic crumbs of blah backstory that only feed the script slim sustenance.
¡°In the Tall Grass¡± isn¡¯t in the top third of Stephen King stories, so it tracks that the film wouldn¡¯t land in the highest tiers of King adaptations either. For that matter, it¡¯s also not in the top third of Vincenzo Natali features.
It¡¯s still decidedly above average considering what lackluster titles lurk on the lower rungs of the King adaptation ladder. And the movie taps a tease of the ¡°Bermuda Triangle in America¡¯s heartland¡± horror described in this review¡¯s intro. Lightly trippy though it may be, the casual amble through ¡°Groundhog Day¡± grass merely means neither your mind nor your pulse will race as fast as you might want for a spookily stylized thriller.
Review Score: 60