(WARNING: Minor spoilers follow.)
Stephen King is a master of horror, but movie adaptations of his work are somewhere between. They can either be masterpieces (even if King doesn’t agree), or atrocious garbage (and bear no resemblance to the source material).
Still, given the success of films like It and Gerald’s Game, I’m more than willing to give adaptations a chance. That’s how I ended up watching In the Tall Grass, based on the novella co-written alongside his son.
In the Tall Grass is reminiscent of King’s earlier works, mixing the right amount of horror and suspense. The entire premise is surreal and felt like one of his short stories under his Bachman pen name.
Siblings driving cross-country through Kansas stop on the side of the road, near-endless fields of tall grass. Upon hearing someone crying for help, they enter only to find themselves lost in a world of endless green that doesn’t follow standard physics.
They aren’t alone, however, and there are dark forces at play walking the rows with them.
I have to appreciate each of the cast, who were all amazing.
Relative newcomers, Laysla De Oliveira and Avery Whitted, play doomed siblings Becky and Cal DeMuth perfectly, from their fear of their troubled relationship. Harrison Gilbertson joins them as a character not in the original novella, which adds a new level to the story.
Wilson is dangerous and insane in all the right ways, and seeing him as an antagonist is a nice change to his roles in previous films. In the meanwhile, Buie’s character has multiple turns (and personages) that showcase the range of this child actor.
Although the movie starts strong, ripping its script directly from the novella, it takes some sudden departures as it progresses. Director and writer Vincenzo Natali (Cube and Splice) adds multiple changes that work well in some ways, but inevitably make the climax (and finale) fall flat.
The new character of Travis is tied to the DeMuth siblings, and inevitably becomes a focus of the story, replacing Cal’s prominent role. Also, they add a strange “time-traveling” aspect, which enhances the weirdness of how the ‘Tall Grass” works and creates an interesting looping technique.
Unfortunately, as the movie continues, they overwrite both this surreal story and the original ending. Attempts to add more visual enemies (as opposed to the inferred aspects of the book) and a climactic battle (that doesn’t exist in the novella) only add to the confusion.
The temporal weirdness also muddles the climax, as you’re not sure who’s alive, who isn’t, and how they got to specific states. The final straw (no pun intended) was when it ended on a relatively happy note, rather than the horrific tragedy of King and Hill’s work.
Is In the Tall Grass worth watching? Absolutely.
If you love King’s style, then the movie gives you all those terrifying feelings of claustrophobia, disorientation, and anxiety. For those worried about how dark it is, I can tell you this is far less disturbing than the novella in multiple ways.
As a horror film, however, it falters during the final third, and the ending wasn’t as pleasing for those of us who like more tragic finales. I still love Natali’s direction, but I’m not so sure about his script.
I give In the Tall Grass a whispering 3.5 dead things out of 5.