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A couple years ago, authors/father and son team Stephen King and Joe Hill teamed up to write a novella that they dared you to read before bed: In The Tall Grass. After fits and starts in trying to adapt it as a feature film, writer/director Vincenzo Natali has finally committed the story to cinematic history, and the end result is as haunting as you’d expect from his pedigree.
The protagonists of In The Tall Grass, Becky and Cal (played by Laysla De Oliveira and Avery Whitted, respectively), are siblings on a road trip to San Diego, with Becky expecting a baby and her brother trying to support her in a sensitive time. In true Stephen King fashion, danger comes a calling in the form of a desolate field that seems to have a child (Will Buie Jr.) trapped in its large expanse of grass.
Becky and Cal embark on saving this child, but what looks like a straightforward rescue mission turns to horticultural hell, as the grass is shifting and so are their paths. With no end in sight, a lot of horrific things start to happen that might tear this tight knit family apart.
Vincenzo Natali’s talents in the horror genre, with films like Cube and Splice under his belt, are an absolutely perfect fit for what In The Tall Grass requires. With a narrative that, much like the field of grass at its center, finds itself running through various loops of human imperfection, the true hopelessness of Becky and Cal’s plight is transferred to the screen in great effect.
Even better, Natali’s interpretation of In The Tall Grass actually changes the story enough to make it a parable on the destructive cycles we as people can fall into. With the addition of a love interest for Becky, played by Harrison Gilbertson, a new pathway opens for the film version to embody a message of hope and personal growth, which leads to a different result from the bleak third act of the 2012 novella.
That doesn’t mean that the chilling nature of In The Tall Grass’s source material is lost, as Vincenzo Natali’s visual flare leads to some pretty dark visuals being realized on the screen. And in perhaps his most villainous turn ever, Patrick Wilson’s Ross anchors the film’s evil energy as a pitch perfect Stephen King villain.
Perhaps the film’s most brilliant turn, Ross’s character is a villain who's symbolic of a lot of the negative energy in culture today. As a real estate agent who won’t take no for an answer, Wilson’s “white dude in a polo shirt” is never wrong, and he’s the perfect avatar for King and Hill’s subplot of zealotry and righteous fervor. Quite frankly, it’s a huge reminder that Wilson should be on more people’s radar, as his skills clearly haven’t dimmed.
While we’re on the subject of the source material to In The Tall Grass, it has to be noted that despite there being differences in the translation between page and screen, there are tons of references and re-workings of elements from the novella that weren’t carried over whole cloth into Vincenzo Natali’s screenplay. So while it’s not a direct adaptation of everything in Stephen King and Joe Hill’s twisted tale, it manages to work those pieces into the mix in new and exciting ways.
Unfortunately, the only negative drawback to In The Tall Grass stems from one of its triumphs, as the cyclical story structure does lead to a couple of false endings, and a bit of confusion about where exactly the plot is heading at some moments in time. This leads to a little bit of slack in the film’s narrative path, but that doesn’t kill the vibe entirely.
Whether you’re a fan of the In The Tall Grass’s novella, or just a Stephen King fan who enjoys a good horror yarn in his trademark fashion, you’re going to enjoy this Netflix feature film adaptation. Telling a new version of this particular story that makes it more timely, and uplifts the story’s finale without cheating you on the intent, Vincenzo Natali continues to deliver the slick and sharp thrills that he’s been known to indulge in.
It’s the perfect time of year to find something new and scary on your doorstep, and In The Tall Grass is just the movie you should let enfold you, if only for a little while, in terror as far as the eye can see.