After hearing a young boy’s cry for help, a brother and sister venture into a vast field of grass in Kansas but soon discover that there may be no way out.
With the cinematic Stephen King resurgence in full swing thanks to IT, and Netflix having somewhat of a King resurgence itself with the likes of Gerald’s Game and 1922, it seems like we are fast approaching a time where no King story will go untapped for a cinematic or streaming adaptation.
While WarnerBros IT was a great time at the cinema, Netflix’s films have been a little more inconsistent in the quality department. Although they’re not afraid to take chances, diving into King’s extensive back catalogue for his more minor and lesser known works.
This all brings us to In the Tall Grass, a Children of the Corn esque tale that features no children, but in a classic King motif, lots and lots of corn. Originally published as a novella in a 2012 edition of Esquire magazine, In the Tall Grass is often deemed one of King’s scarier novellas, bringing in elements of his other works and encasing them in a strict, claustrophobic tale of survial.
Choosing to stick fairly close to the original material, Vincenzo Natali (CUBE) directs the story of six people who are lured into a vast field of corn that twists and turns its pathways to ensure there is no escape. Our main pairing is a brother and sister duo, Cal and Becky. Becky is pregnant and on her way to give the baby up for adoption, while Cal drives her to the exchange. When in the corn they meet up with a young boy by the name of Tobin, and his parents, played by Patrick Wilson and Rachel Wilson, and also Becky’s ex, Travis, who is searching for Becky after reacting badly to the news he will be a father.
If there’s one thing to commend the movie for right off the bat, it’s the direction by Vincenzo Natali. The first act is when the movie is at it’s most suspenseful, as Natali emphasizes the ways that the grass plays tricks on you, showing peoples voices as being further away than they are, twisting and untwisting itself to ensure a labyrinthian nature, and in one of the more interesting aspects of the actual novella, playing with the concept of time.
The opening act could have made for a nice little horror short, or maybe a 60 minute TV adaptation, but in their attempts to pad the story for a cinematic runtime, the film ends up overstaying its welcome, shifting the story onto Travis, a character added exclusively to the movie. There’s a very nice little set-piece towards the end involving Becky’s baby that could really act as a decent finale. In an odd decision, however, the movie continues on for another 30 minutes after that scene, losing its emphasis on the enticing supernatural visuals, and ending on more of a straightforward run and chase sequence.
It almost feels as if the script is too hesitant to really go there with the themes that King was conveying with his original story, and shies away from focusing too much on the supernatural. Natali, who adapted the story himself, expanded the story of Patrick Wilson’s character to give it a slightly more topical edge, as opposed to the one-dimensional situation his character goes through in the novella. It’s not that it’s an unsuccessful attempt by any means, but it is something that has been done before, and ironically, even done more successfully within previous adaptations of King’s works.
When it comes to the cast, Patrick Wilson is clearly having the most fun, bringing a slightly over the top performance that feels just right, even if the script forces him to deliver some exceptionally ridiculous lines. The rest of the actors conduct themselves well, but ultimately feel a little hollow since we spend so little time with each of them individually.
Overall, as far as a weekend binge goes, you can do a lot worse than In the Tall Grass. It’s an interesting look at a lesser-known King tale, that while doesn’t exactly run away with the premise, at least has a pleasant surprise or two before running itself to a generic finale.
While In The Tall Grass fails to live up to its suspenseful first act, the movie has one or two interesting sequences to make it worth a weekend stream. If little else, it may ignite interest in a Children of the Corn remake enough that He Who Walks Behind The Rows may walk again.
Into The Tall Grass stars Patrick Wilson, Laysla De Oliveira, Avery Witted, Will Buie Jr, Rachel Wilson and Harrison Gilbertson. It is now available worldwide exclusively through Netflix.