Released: 4th October
Seen: 5th October
Stephen King is a master of taking things that aren’t normally scary and making them terrifying. Puppies, classic cars, a cell phone, he’s taken them and twisted them into the stuff of nightmares. In 2012, Stephen collaborated with his son Joe Hill for a short story called In the Tall Grass, because now Stephen wants us to be scared of lawns. One of these days he’s going to make a film about a killer lamp and then someone will make a movie about it and I’ll end up enjoying that almost as much as I enjoyed this film.
In the Tall Grass follows brother and sister Becky (Laysla De Oliveira) and Cal (Avery Whitted) who are on a road trip to take Becky, who is 6 months pregnant, to see a couple interested in adopting her baby. They stop on the way to get some fresh air and hear a child calling for help, the voice appearing to come from a large field of 7 foot tall grass. Trying to help, the two of them go into the tall grass. Once in there it soon becomes apparent that there is something very different about this field, the concept of space and time mean nothing and if you lose sight of someone for a few seconds they could completely vanish forever.
There is no time wasted with this film just getting straight to the point. No build up, no nothing, within 5 minutes our main characters are deep in the field of the tall grass and by 10 minutes they’re separated. We don’t even really get time to know all our characters before the film begins revealing that there’s a lot more going on than just people getting lost in a field. Every minute or two there’s a new piece of information that slowly reveals the real insanity of this movie. It’s not like The Perfection, a film that made hairpin turns without any warning whatsoever, because this film isn’t doing twists. Everything is just a simple narrative that slowly reveals itself, it’s just revealing insanity. It’s like watching a puzzle slowly being put together that you think is of a nice tranquil field and by about halfway through you realise it’s actually Hieronymus Bosch’s The Harrowing of Hell. By the end of the film, it has gone to such insane places that you may ask yourself “How did I get here? This is not my beautiful home, this is not my beautiful wife”. I could try to describe the insane places it ends up but not only would that be a spoiler, but I don’t think you would believe me even if I told you. Just be warned, you will see a dead dog but it’s OK, the dog is also fine. I swear to god that makes sense once you see the movie
The tension is palpable from almost the first minute, the instant that everyone steps into the field of grass there’s an overwhelming fear that washes over you. It’s a strange feeling to have claustrophobia in a film that takes place outside but that’s just a testament to how good the film is. The large blades of grass turn into the walls of a hedge maze but without the definition. You could go in any direction and it doesn’t matter because there’s going to be grass on all sides. You could be standing right beside someone and not even see them, a trick this film uses on several occasions to create some effective jump scares. Another thing this film uses brilliantly is sound design, specifically spatial sound design. Watching this film with headphones is insanely effective because they play with where voices come from, creating the idea of people being in two places almost simultaneously. I can assume the experience would be similar with surround sound (hi, I’m a poor boy who couldn’t afford that kind of setup if my life depended on it) so if your setup can’t do directional audio, I’d wait until you get that working… or just accept a tiny portion of the tension won’t be there. It’s honestly used so impressively for several major moments that it’s worth bringing up.
It’s also worth bringing up how great our leads are. Our two siblings basically have to carry the film, with some minor help from Will Buie Jr as Tobin (the kid who calls for help in the beginning) and Patrick Wilson as Tobin’s dad. Patrick might be giving the most insane performance of the film, it might not seem that way at the start but by the time the film is done he is so over the top it’s kind of glorious to behold. Will is… well, he’s a kid. It’s a kid performance and at times it works, sometimes it’s not great but you can’t be too picky with child actors because, once more, they’re children. The cast is really good though and considering that there are a lot of scenes where they basically have to act with nothing but a disembodied voice and a wall of grass to work off of, it’s pretty impressive what they manage to make happen.
I will admit that this film is a little longer than it probably should be, it’s the kind of story that would work even better as an hour long episode of an anthology series or in short form, since it’s based on a short story. They stretch the idea out to its absolute limit and then throw on a little bit more just because. It’s not like it’s hard to get through, I was never bored by what I was seeing but I did find myself wondering if there was a way to just compress everything a little and make it tighter.
In the Tall Grass is one of those adaptations that work if you’re willing to go along for the ride. I can get where some might not like it, you have to give in to one of King’s weirdest concepts and considering how weird King can get, that’s is saying a lot. However, if you let yourself go along for the ride there is a ton of tension to be found in this weird little film with some genuinely effective scares and some great performances. It’s really quite good, better than an adaptation of a novella about getting lost in some weeds has any right to be. I wouldn’t say it’s one of the classics, it’s not up there with Misery or Carrie or Green Mile, but it’s absolutely one of the good adaptations of a King property and it’s always nice to see someone get King just right.