REVIEW: In the Tall Grass (2019)

Release Poster – Netflix

The following is a review of In the Tall Grass — Directed by Vincenzo Natali.

Vincenzo Natali’s In the Tall Grass is a straight-to-Netflix horror film based on the Stephen King and Joe Hill novella of the same name, which was initially released in issues of Esquire magazine in 2012. Natali’s adaptation follows Cal (played by Avery Whitted) and his pregnant sister Becky (played by Laysla De Oliveira), who is considering giving up her baby for adoption. When they are driving in the middle of nowhere, Cal has to pull over because his sister is feeling sick. While having stopped by the side of the road, they both hear a boy (played by Will Buie, Jr.) screaming for help from inside a nearby field of very tall grass. They both decide to enter the field to get him out, but, once they have entered the claustrophobic green field of grass, they quickly realize that they are unable to escape it or even find each other.

I read the aforementioned Stephen King and Joe Hill novella a couple of weeks ago after I had seen the trailer for Natali’s adaptation. Ultimately, I am both happy and sorry that I read the novella. Because even though I think King and Hill’s novella was gruesome, gripping, and a great short story, I also think that having seen the story in its original form, ultimately, made the film much less satisfying. Because while I thought the novella was great, I was extremely disappointed by the adaptation, in large part, due to its many inventions and changes to the original story.

Natali, who also wrote the script, took a fairly simple but very spine-chilling short story and made it needlessly complicated. At no point should In the Tall Grass feel even slightly complex to follow, but it does, in part, due to the fact that he has turned this into a time loop horror film. I just think that is an extremely unnecessary alteration to King and Hill’s short story. I understand that Natali needed to make some alterations to the story to make it work as a feature-length film, but I thought that adding the Travis-character (played by Harrison Gilbertson) was all he would do. His alterations and additions change character relationships and hurt the pacing of the story, and, although Natali does film the most brutal moment in the short story, I think the filmmaker ultimately botches the big moments of the novella.

One of the reasons why I was so incredibly excited to watch this film — as well as the reason why I read the short story — was the fact that this film was being made by Vincenzo Natali. Natali’s directorial debut, Cube, isn’t just a cult favorite, it’s also one of the first horror films that I was obsessed with. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen Cube. Natali does do a lot of very good things with the adaptation of In the Tall Grass. He conjures up the right atmosphere for the maze-like horror film. Alongside his cinematographer, Natali found the right way to shoot a field of grass in a way that would make it menacing, claustrophobic, dazzling, and overwhelming. Although the film was eventually too dimly lit in several pivotal scenes, the filmmaker achieved a visual style that made the tall grass, which might’ve eventually been incredibly dull to look at, somewhat pleasing or interesting to look at.

Most of the cast is comprised of lesser-known actors, and I thought Will Buie, Jr. was the standout among the lesser-known performers. With the way the film is structured, he gets to play two very different versions of his character, and I thought he did a solid job with both of them. But the very best performance given in the film came from Patrick Wilson, the Conjuring and Insidious-star who plays the father of Buie, Jr.’s character. Wilson’s character is easily the most memorable character in the novella, and I thought Wilson was a lot of fun to watch in a role that allowed him to be gleefully deranged.

Patrick Wilson is, admittedly, very entertaining to watch chewing the scenery in the middle of the claustrophobic and dizzying grass field, which is shot inventively by Vincenzo Natali and director of photography Craig Wrobleski. But, In the Tall Grass writer-director, Vincenzo Natali has, ultimately, overcomplicated a gruesome short story to such an extent that the film frustrated me greatly.

5.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

3 thoughts on “REVIEW: In the Tall Grass (2019)

  1. Very interesting to read that, if I’m reading you correctly, the time loop/paradox elements don’t exist in the short story. That’s crazy. That fundamentally changes the whole thing, no? If anything this makes me want to read the story even more to see how the narrative plays out in a presumably more linear fashion. Plus I felt Travis was an important character here with a perspective worth sharing. Very interesting. It’s a shame that these changes add up to yet another botched King adaptation….

    1. Thanks for the comment! If memory serves, there is no time loop in the short story. However, I think there was a section or two about how it felt like time stood still in the field of grass, or something like that. I thought the short story was very effective. I’d recommend it.

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