Nature, as beautiful as it is, can be extremely disorienting, making the vastness of areas become confined spaces the more confused you become. That feeling of confinement in a large open space is brought to life by Vincenzo Natali in In the Tall Grass, a Netflix Original adaptation of the novella of the same name from Stephen King and Joe Hill.
As siblings, Becky (Laysla De Oliveira) and Cal (Avery Whitted) are on a road trip to California. They stop at the side of the road and are met with cries from a young boy, Tobin (Will Buie Jr.), who is lost in a field of tall grass. The pair quickly decide to rescue him, only to become lost themselves. Lost and quickly becoming more confused, the grass begins to warp their sense of direction, bounding their voices from the left to the right, front to back, and then they realize that nothing is right.
Cut off from the world, a sense of hopelessness kicks in while the grass begins tightening its grip. The serrated blades of grass cut their skin, the mud caves in under their feet, and the exhaustion sets in. As they begin, their spirits deflate and they discover that the only thing worse than getting lost is being found by those who are also lost.
Natali brings his talent for creating disorienting situations in confined spaces to In the Tall Grass. His sense for navigating tight spaces and creating tension with limited elements shines and makes him the perfect choice for bringing In the Tall Grass to film. While the grand scale of the grass is consistently on display with overhead views of the field, once the camera enters the grass, the space is claustrophobic. The grass overtakes every shot and all of a sudden the characters are trapped in a box. In fact, Natali’s work on Cube, his first feature film, is visible here in the best of ways.
In a film that has an environment that is nature first and supernatural second, the characters drive the film. It’s Becky and Cal’s fear and discovery of the grass’s power that pulls you into the world. Patrick Wilson‘s Ross showcases a man whose descent into madness is shocking, slightly comedic, and ultimately, terrifying.
Surprisingly, the breakout star of this film is Buie as Tobin. Traditionally, I don’t like seeing kids in horror films, but Buie was phenomenal. He was emotive and seasoned well beyond his age. Tobin is both charming and unnerving at different points in the film. In addition, the choice to expand the role of Travis (Harrison Gilbertson), Becky’s boyfriend, in the film beyond just a reference was the perfect choice. In the role, Gilbertson pulls your attention every time he is on scene. He is also pivotal in providing a selfless heart to the film.
All of that being said, In the Tall Grass isn’t perfect. The script is scarier when the grass is the only villain but as the mechanics of how the grass works are revealed, the film loses a lot of its edge. In addition, there is an emptiness in the adult characters that works for Ross, but hurts the relationship building between Becky, Travis, and Cal. This is a fault of not using enough exposition in the opening to introduce us to the characters. That said, this critique of the characters also allows for the power of the grass to shape who they are to the viewer as the confusion of the field sets in.
Overall, In the Tall Grass is a strong adaptation of a good novella. While it isn’t perfect, it is a film that will keep you from walking into the tall grass in the future and a perfect addition to Netflix’s horror lineup for Halloween month. Plus, this has me ready to check out whatever Natali does next.
In the Tall Grass releases exclusively on Netflix on October 4, 2019.
In the Tall Grass
, In the Tall Grass is a strong adaptation of a good novella. While it isn’t perfect, it is a film that will keep you from walking into the tall grass in the future and a perfect addition to Netflix’s horror lineup for Halloween month. Plus, this has me ready to check out whatever Natali does next.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.