REVIEW: In the Tall Grass (2019)

inthetallgrass_posterSiblings Becky (Laysla De Oliviera) and Cal (Avery Whitted) stop their car beside a thick cornfield, and hear a young boy’s plaintive cries for help. They enter the field to lead the boy out, only to get lost themselves – and trapped inside a nightmare world where the rules of time and physics no longer seem to apply.

In the Tall Grass is a 2019 horror feature produced for Netflix and directed by genre stalwart Vincenzo Natali (Cube, Cypher, Splice). It adapts a novella by Stephen King and his son Joe Hill. It is enjoyable stuff for horror fans, with more than a few knockout moments of terror or dread, but it does not seem to quite pull together as a total package. It is a film that entertains and disappoints: it is good, but could visibly have been better.

Scary plants can be a staple of horror, be they in Day of the Triffids or The Thing from Another World, or more recent examples including The Ruins and The Happening. In the latter example, writer/director M. Night Shyamalan unfortunately demonstrated that making plants frightening can be rather hard. Natali effectively side-steps the problem by focusing on the paranoia and the maddening circular path his characters take. They are lost, and closed in a strange time loop, and appear to be stuck in their predicament forever. The tone of the film’s opening act is fairly effective, and promises both a horror story and a twisted mystery.

It is a shame, therefore, that things drag so badly in the middle. People running in a panic around a cornfield only take an audience so far, and with the other primary threat appearing to be a large rock in a clearing there is not too much to keep a viewer hooked into what is going on. Some characters begin to act strangely out of sorts, but given the film that is pretty much expected. A neat premise is burned out fairly quickly among all of the panic and the running. There was an opportunity for a short, sharp and nasty horror film here, but what would have been a tight 70-minute thrill ride has been bloated out to an hour-and-a-half.

The cast are competent enough, with Patrick Wilson – now a genre stalwart thanks to The Conjuring and Insidious – delivering a nicely over-the-top highlight. The film also has a nice aesthetic to it thanks to Natali’s demonstrable skills. The atmosphere goes a long way towards papering over the problems, but sadly it does not quite paper over them enough. The film also takes a curious approach to explaining what was going on, neither fully explaining (which maximises story at the expense of tension) nor remaining entirely mysterious (which conversely ups the horror at the expense of the story). Such fence-sitting does the work few favours.  In its better moments, In the Tall Grass is well worth the watch – particularly for King or Hill enthusiasts – but overall there are simply better horror viewing options out there.

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