As a part of Netflix’s increasingly spooky October releases, this week sees the arrival of In The Tall Grass, an adaptation of the novella by the increasingly favoured horror master Stephen King and his prodigious son, Joe Hill (Heart-Shaped Box, Horns). Both have reputations as masters of horror, so surely this can only mean one thing – a very spooky story.
Immediately from its opening, In The Tall Grass features two of American horror’s mainstays: tall grass/cornfields, and pregnant women (nothing ever good happens to pregnant women in horror movies). The idea of tall grass strays from the usual cornfields, but it’s no less terrifying: especially not since this grass seems to be sentient, and pretty evil. You wouldn’t think that grass could be scary. It isn’t necessarily the grass in itself, but the feeling of watching people get lost and separated from each other in it is immediately eerie. Trying to locate each other, siblings Becky and Cal jump to see each other over the tall grass – but the second time they jump, they are suddenly miles apart. For anyone who fears getting lost in mazes, this is a big “hell no”.
Time in this film is not linear, but it’s also a little confusing. The father of Becky’s child, Travis (dressed like Bucky Barnes from Captain America: Civil War), seems to arrive soon after she and Cal disappear; but we’re told later that he arrives two months after. Most of the time spent in the tall grass is spent looking for the little boy Tobin, but when exactly he got lost in the grass, and whether or not the viewer is supposed to know this, is unclear.
Few faces are more ubiquitous in modern horror than Patrick Wilson (star of both the Insidious and Conjuring series), and he isn’t messing around in this film. For those who remember his terrifying turn in Insidious: Chapter 2, he’s back in that same form. His character, Ross Humboldt, immediately becomes the horrifying boogeyman of the film and something akin to the ‘face’ of the entity that haunts the grass. He’s genuinely terrifying, and his attack on Becky makes for incredibly uncomfortable viewing.
One of the problems that this film has is a problem that haunts King’s work, and it’s his treatment of Native Americans. Though supposedly real-life horror stories in America are often linked to places such as Native American burial sites, it’s starting to feel problematic that a white man is appropriating Native American culture (in this film, it’s a decorated rock that seems to possess those who touch it) in the context of horror.
Fuelled by Wilson’s menacing performance, In The Tall Grass’s narrative plot line is able to move forward with a real sense of tension. The characters are not explored in much detail, and Cal at some points seems rather unredeemable as an asshole (with a creepy attachment to his sister), but Ross’s savagery is such that it’d be impossible not to root for his victims to get away. This leads to a film that, while may not give you sleepless nights, is definitely an entertaining watch.
Image Credit: Stephanie Lawton via Wikipedia Commons