Sporting an intriguing premise and some solid visuals despite its monotonous setting, Vincenzo Natali’s In The Tall Grass is the type of film whose setup outperforms the finale. There’s still enough here to warrant a trip into this nightmare field however, which — as the title suggests — does indeed have some very tall grass.
Based on a novella by Stephen King and Joe Hill, the film stars Becky DeMuth and Avery Whitted as Becky and Cal, a brother and sister who are taking a road trip across the country to start a new life after Becky discovers she’s pregnant and the father seemingly wants nothing to do with their child. After stopping along the side of the road to deal with Becky’s morning sickness, the two hear the faint sound of someone calling for help in a nearby field of tall grass. Realizing it’s a child the two fruitlessly attempt to guide him out and then decide that they should go in after him.
A few minutes of wandering around in the grass results in the stark realization that they too are now lost with no clue as to where the road is. Worse yet, they managed to lose each other and, after jumping up in unison a few times, they discover their position is somehow changing on its own without them moving at all. Something supernatural is afoot in this damn grass.
Using plenty of stunning aerial footage of the tall grass, Natali makes great use of the setting, managing to keep what amounts to a bunch of people running around some grass aesthetically interesting, not unlike what he did with Cube, a film with a similar hook but a far better outcome. Becky and Cal eventually find the kid, a young boy named Tobin, and find out that his mom and dad are somewhere in the grass too; and to make matters more complicated, it appears that time works differently in there as well.
Patrick Wilson plays Ross, Tobin’s father, and he steals the show with his completely over-the-top performance, first portraying a goofy, all-too-chipper dad and then a crazed lunatic. After the initial intrigue of the film wears off and the secrets of the grass are revealed, it’s Wilson’s performance that keeps things from feeling completely stale.
It doesn’t all work, however; second and third acts, despite having some great imagery, begin to feel dull with a strange side plot involving Cal and Becky’s relationship and the baby’s father, Travis (Harrison Gilbertson), who turns out to be a key player in all this craziness when he comes looking for the siblings earlier in the film.
Titles like this, which lay a strong foundation of intrigue, often build up a certain level of expectation about why this is all happening, sometimes so much that — no matter the cause — it will be a letdown, and such is the case with In the Tall Grass. In the end, it was just fine, but like many movies of this ilk, the journey was far superior to the destination.
In The Tall Grass is the type of movie perfectly suited for Netflix: a mid-tier horror title with a compelling premise and solid filmmaking across the board but nothing that truly makes it a standout. It’s no Gerald’s Game to be sure, but I still had a pretty good time with this one.