There has been a small wave of recent Netflix Originals adapted from the works of Stephen King. The most recent is “In the Tall Grass”, an unusual little horror-thriller based on a 2012 novella King co-wrote with Joe Hill, the pen name of his oldest son. It’s built around an interesting premise but unfortunately it’s one of the cases of there not being enough material to see the movie through to the end.
Writer-director Vincenzo Natali does what he can to stretch King’s short story to feature length. The entire film takes place in one rural location and features lots of tall grass, lots of yelling, and a huge mysterious rock at the center of it all. It throws out a cool idea or two and the cast is game but the whole thing eventually runs out of gas.
The film opens with Cal (Avery Whitted) driving his pregnant sister Becky (Laysla De Oliveira) to San Diego where they are to meet with a family interested in adopting her baby. Along the way Becky gets nauseous so they pull over near a church in a remote area resembling the Midwest. Outside she hears the scared pleas of a young boy named Tobin (Will Buie Jr.) crying out of an endless field of (you guessed it) tall grass.
Unable to lead the boy to the road Becky and Cal make the cardinal mistake of venturing into the grass. Of course they get separated and their voices prove to be unworthy guides. It quickly becomes apparent there is something off with this field. Cal bumps into the wide-eyed Tobin while Becky crosses paths with Ross (Patrick Wilson), Tobin’s father who says he and his wife Natalie (Rachel Wilson) got separated in the grass searching for their son.
The final piece of the human puzzle (and the only other cast member) is Becky’s ex and the father of her baby Travis (Harrison Gilbertson). He’s been looking for the siblings and finds their vehicle near the field. He too ventures into the grass getting lost in its haze of creepy hallucinations, disorienting sounds, and confusing time twists. Once he has everyone in, Natali begins unfurling his mystery. It includes unpacking old family baggage and throwing out some weird supernatural twists.
When everything finally comes together you can’t help but appreciate what Natali is doing. The storytelling can be a little thorny, but it’s pieces finally fit together in a pretty clever way. Still, there is only so much you can do with such a small amount of source material and in compensating for that “In the Tall Grass” repeats itself too much. And without any really compelling characters to latch onto, you’re left appreciating the idea while wishing there was more to it.
VERDICT – 2.5 STARS