In the Tall Grass review: Stephen King Netflix horror gets lost in the weeds

An adaptation of a novella co-written by the author’s son Joe Hill starts out with promise but soon descends into repetitive and nonsensical theatrics

“Can grass be scary?” is a key question propelling the gory Netflix chiller In the Tall Grass, an adaptation of a creepy novella uncomfortably stretched to a not-quite-as-creepy full-length feature. Greenery has proved scary before, in everything from The Day of the Triffids to Signs to the grisly extremes of The Ruins, but here, it’s more of an annoyance and plays second fiddle to the nightmarish terror of … a big rock.

Which brings us to a far less debate-worthy question, also raised in the film: “Can rocks be scary?” The answer reveals itself immediately after said rock appears (spoiler: it’s no). But don’t tell that to Cube director Vincenzo Natali, who has long been fixated on bringing the short story, co-authored by Stephen King and son Joe Hill, to the screen. His film treats a Kansas field as if it were a haunted house, an ambitious gambit that in practice is easier to politely admire than it is to enthusiastically celebrate.

The set-up, which loosely recalls Jeepers Creepers, sees a brother and sister on a sweltering car journey who find themselves drawn into an attempted rescue in the middle of nowhere. While in Jeepers Creepers the siblings ventured into a pit of corpses only to become targeted by an evil organ-consuming monster, this time they’re dragged into a field, concerned by the cries of a child lost in the tall grass before finding themselves stuck in a never-ending maze of blades. Once they’re in, it’s seemingly impossible to get out, and their bad day switches to worse when they realise they’re stuck in there with … a big rock.

Natali does manage some successfully squirmy tension in the first act, immersing us in the pair’s increasingly frustrating Blair Witch-style panic as they struggle to make logical sense of an illogical scenario. He finds ways of visualising their predicament that avoid repetition, the camera swirling in and around the grass, teasing at a freedom the characters aren’t allowed. But as the situation worsens, our interest weakens. The convoluted plot that’s slowly revealed transforms an eerie campfire tale into an overstuffed head-scratcher with clunky dialogue like “You can’t run from redemption!” as an expanding set of characters grapple with the mounting silliness around them.

The cast is populated by unknowns, save for a scenery-chewing Patrick Wilson as a father looking for his son, and the characters are equally anonymous, Natali’s script never truly investing us in the brother-sister dynamic. While some of the nastier lurches in the third act will appease genre fans, the guff that surrounds them will probably confuse and ultimately alienate them, the film’s moving parts never really moving in unison. “This is never gonna stop!” a character shouts near the end but mercifully it eventually does, settling in for a life down among the weeds next to Netflix’s many other equally forgettable horror misfires.

  • In the Tall Grass is now available on Netflix

Contributor

Benjamin Lee

The GuardianTramp

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