It seems to be that we can’t go an entire month without a brand new Stephen King property being adapted to the big or small screen. Now that IT: Chapter Two has already come our way, it’s now NETFLIX’s turn to amaze with their adaptation of King and his son Joe Hill’s novella, In The Tall Grass. In many ways the Vincenzo Natali helmed film succeeds, with a tense and claustrophobic atmosphere within the confines of the tall grass, it’s just a matter of how he concludes his tale that restricts it from being an overly memorable King tale.
Director Vincenzo Natali is known more for his contributions toward television than film, with wonderful work on such shows as the short lived HANNIBAL, WESTWORLD, and THE STRAIN. Mentioned a moment ago, his claustrophobic atmosphere is the real savior of the film. It provides an intensity to the tight corridors of the tall grass. While I love the simplicity of the set design and the continuous maze that is the grass, it’s the third act that troubles me, and it’s not only the writing. When the third act hits, it’s difficult to understand one hundred percent what exactly is happening on screen. In fact, at times it is so dimly lit that I can’t know for sure what’s in my head and what’s actually taking place on screen. Vincenzo provides an outlet for King and Hill’s idea but whether it’s being directly lifted from the page or not, the adaptation to film just doesn’t hold any interest.
When Becky and Cal have to stop for an emergency, they hear a shout from the nearby field of grass and they decide to go help the ‘little kid’ in need. Once they enter the grass they become instantly lost, and that’s where our story begins. Attempting to find Tobin, the child in the grass, and make it back to the car as soon as they can, they soon run into many issues such as the grass becoming an always changing maze. There are time jumps with more characters being brought in as time moves along, and if you don’t pay close attention, the third act will immediately confuse you and the final scene will feel in ways a cop out to conclude a third act that feels fatally flawed. While I respect the first two acts of Natali’s adaptation of King/Hill’s work, it’s that crucial third act that makes me almost forgot how intriguing the other part of the movie was and want to leave the entirety of In The Tall Grass behind.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
There are three groups of people in this film: the duo that lead our film, the trio that are already lost in the grass, and a single person who comes in after the duo disappears. They mysteriously all become a part of the grass at different times, and this becomes a large part of the mystery of the film. Our first duo, the pregnant Becky and her brother Cal, are played by Laysla De Oliveira and Avery Whitted; it was a little confusing to understand exactly who they were to one another. In fact, I had to look it up after the fact to know for sure. However, their relationship is solid while never truly distinguished as to how involved the two are. The trio of characters: Ross, Tobin, and Natalie are a mixed bag of characters. Tobin is very much involved in the story and the young actor who portrayed him unfortunately isn’t the most practiced in his craft. Patrick Wilson plays Ross and while he is certainly, from his introduction, the most fascinating character, the third act witnesses his descent into rushed character development. Natalie is barely in the film, only showing up at particular moments and is mostly taken by the grass for a majority of her runtime. The final element is Travis, Becky’s ex-boyfriend, who ducked out when the baby was announced and has now come back to her rescue, entering the tall grass to extract her and take her home to become a loving family. The truth is that the characters are okay and the acting is decent enough, especially from Patrick Wilson, but the less than stellar performance given by Will Buie Jr. drags the story down, especially when most of the dialogue is the characters shouting directions for others to follow.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Composer Mark Korven (The Witch, The Lighthouse) leaves us with a haunting ringing of his subtitle work. Similar to The Witch, the tone of his score intensifies as the story moves along, bringing a bigger fear from the audience to watch the film play out, especially when the people we are rooting for are lost in an endless maze. Korven gives us a score for In The Tall Grass that is evocative yet much more unfading than the score he composed for The Witch, which was a score that stuck with me longer than the film itself. There’s no doubt this composer is just getting started with more notable projects, and his name should presumably become one of the greats; it’s just that his efforts here don’t quite measure up to his 2015 outing.
I really love the practical effects and the set designs, most notably the grass as the primary setting of the entire film beyond three scenes; it is eerie to say the very least. Natali has some beautiful shots throughout the film and a lot of that is due to wonderful cinematography, with some interesting camera spins as we explore the endless strands of grass. The CGI however is another thing completely, while the obvious greenscreen showing the endless field of grass actually isn’t the worst bit of digital effects out there, and for their brief time on screen they're actually quite believable. It’s the mysterious demonic rock and everything that comes from it that makes me question the time spent refining the effects in the most crucial final act.
Netflix’s In The Tall Grass isn’t a great Stephen King adaptation, and I’d say it’s not even the best of the year. However, it’s a fair adaptation of a novella that no one really knew about. There’s a lot here to like, with a great build up, simplistic but easy enough to relate to characters, and a premise that shouldn’t work at all yet amazingly does. It’s just a shame that the film can’t stick the landing or even the last act of the film at all, but instead deciding to go down a path that should have never been an option just for the sake of nonsensical demonic horror instead of a compelling mystery that never has a concluding resolution.