In the Tall Grass, written and directed by Vincenzo Natali, is the latest Stephen King story to be adapted from the screen. Based on the novella by King and his son Joe Hill, this is certainly the best adaptation of the author’s work so far this year (at least until Doctor Sleep comes out) thanks to an eerie atmosphere and some committed performances.
The film tells the story of two siblings who get lost in a seemingly endless field of tall grass after hearing a young boy cry for help, ultimately coming to realize that something evil may want to hold them there forever. Despite the fact that the movie is based on a short work (only sixty pages long), the story is expanded in a way that is eerie and wholly satisfying.
That said, the film does drag quite a bit in the opening, as the characters are still trying to figure out what is happening to them. Once the rules of the grass are established and the characters start searching to find a way out, the movie becomes quite gripping. Not everything makes complete sense, but as with most stories by King, it is more about the novelty of the concept than the details.
One of the more disappointing things about this film is that it does not have anything interesting to say. Yes, there are messages about redemption and the importance of family, but those seem to be more of an afterthought in the movie. Natali’s script does seem to have drained most of the substance typical of King’s work, but at least it stays true to the messed up vision of the fan-favorite horror author.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about this film is that the character development is extremely well-done. In the beginning, it seems that the characters are going to adhere to their archetypes pretty closely, but all of them have interesting arcs that allow them to grow over the course of the story. Natali’s script takes the characters in some interesting and unexpected directions, which is quite refreshing.
The ensemble of the movie is also quite good. The lead performances from Laysla De Oliveira and Avery Whitted are both solid, but it is the supporting cast who stands out most. Patrick Wilson gives an over-the-top performance that becomes more and more fun to watch as the film progresses. Child actor Will Buie Jr. also gives a good turn, lending the movie its emotional core.
On a technical level, the film is very strong too. Since a majority of the movie takes place in grass, quite a bit had to be done with the production design and cinematography to give the film a bit of variety. For the most part, Natali and crew succeed in doing that, creating a setting that feels intimidatingly vast yet somehow also claustrophobia-inducing.
While In the Tall Grass may not be the most complex movie, it is an entertaining nail-biting chiller. After the massive disappointments that were Pet Sematary and It Chapter Two, Stephen King fans very much needed a win in 2019, and this film provides that.
In the Tall Grass is now streaming on Netflix.