IN THE TALL GRASS is the latest film from director Vincenzo Natal (Cube, Splice), based on the novella of the same name by Stephen King and Joe Hill, which centers around a brother and sister who venture into a vast field of tall grass only to find out that there may be no way of escaping. The film stars Harrison Gilbertson (Upgrade), Laysla De Oliveira (Guest of Honour), Avery Whitted (The Vanishing of Sidney Hall), Will Buie Jr. (Gifted), Rachel Wilson (The Glass House) and Patrick Wilson (The Conjurings series).
To best describe the plot, I’ll turn to the official synopsis from Netflix: “When siblings Becky (Laysla De Oliveira) and Cal (Avery Whitted) hear the cries of a young boy lost within a field of tall grass, they venture in to rescue him, only to become ensnared themselves by a sinister force that quickly disorients and separates them. Cut off from the world and unable to escape the field’s tightening grip, they soon discover that the only thing worse than getting lost is being found.
Other than knowing that this film was based off a novella, I was lucky enough to go in rather blind, which I think paid off. However, at the time, I wasn’t sure if the film would actually pay off because, honestly, how interesting can it be watching two individuals lost in a field of tall grass? The answer is, very interesting. The film opens with Cal and Becky on the road to San Diego. Becky is quite pregnant and during the drive asks Cal to pull over after becoming nauseous. Situated on the side of the road, next to a field of tall grass, they hear a boy calling for help. Concerned for his safety, Cal and Becky go in search for the boy, only to find themselves split up and lost in the barrage of grass. While trying to find each other, Becky encounters Ross Humboldt (played by Patrick Wilson), who informs her that he’s looking for his son and he has found a way out of the field. Meanwhile, Cal locates Tobin (played by Will Buie Jr.), the young boy that initially called for help, who brings Cal to a mysterious rock deep within the field of grass. It’s at this point that the viewer is taken on a journey throughout the field of tall grass, in which secrets are revealed, space and time is altered, and the real danger is never far behind.
What I loved so much about this film is not only the beautiful and disturbing imagery, but also the way in which the film constantly keeps the viewer on their toes. The story is executed in a way that leaves a trail of breadcrumbs for the viewer to follow, allowing them the opportunity to put the pieces together while coming up with their own interpretations of the themes at play. There are definitely moments within the film that feel open-ended, but for someone like me, that’s something I tend to enjoy because it gives my imagination the opportunity to fill in the blanks. IN THE TALL GRASS is also a film that demands your attention in order to follow the path in which our characters find themselves.
Speaking of the cast, each and every person does a superb job. Laysla De Oliveira and Avery Whitted have genuine chemistry as brother and sister, so much so, that when a certain secret was revealed, I felt my skin crawl with disgust. Laysla De Oliveira, in particular, really steals the show with her performance, exhibiting immense strength and determination, not only in hopes of saving herself, but also for the unborn baby she is carrying. Speaking of which, we end up meeting the baby daddy, Travis McKean, played by Harrison Gilbertson, who has a complex past that unfolds for the viewer as he searches for both Becky and Cal. In the beginning, I wasn’t a fan of his character, but by the time the film ended I found myself feeling sympathetic towards him. Not to make one performance seem better than the rest, since all of them stand out on their own merit, I would be remissed if I didn’t make note of Patrick Wilson’s performance. I don’t want to give too much away, but I absolutely loved his storyline as well as seeing a performance from him that is very different from the ones horror fans are used too seeing in The Conjuring series.
Aside from the acting, the visuals also take center stage. Done with a combination of physical effects and CGI, the field of grass is designed to feel claustrophobic and disorienting. I’m sure there are going to be many comparisons between this and 2008’s The Ruins (also based off of a book), but I assure you that both films are very different from one another. In terms of gore and violence, there definitely is quite a bit of it, but it never seems gratuitous or out of place. I will admit, though, that when the more violent moments appear on screen, they can be quite jarring. Also, SPOILER AHEAD, but a dog does die, kind of, and that’s all I can say about that. As for the enigmatic rock, that quickly becomes an important plot point, and the presence of it, along with its cryptic carvings, give off a Lovecraftian vibe that filled me with joy. My only critique, in regards to the visuals, was that since a lot of the film and actions scenes take place at night, it was hard to decipher what was going on because of how dark the film was. That said, I did watch an early copy of it on my computer screen (and tried to change the brightness to no avail) so the final product might have fixed that.
As for the story itself, I found it to be engaging even during the times I was left a little confused. Regardless, I ended up enjoying it so much that I immediately bought the novella to read. As I mentioned earlier, this is a movie that requires the viewer’s attention because there are so many moving pieces. It’s refreshing to see such an original concept come to life and be done in a way that is visually stunning and thought provoking. Though there are moments that feel very philosophical as themes such as death, redemption, religion, and forgiveness are touched upon, it never feels overbearing or heavy. As previously mentioned, I feel like these themes are meant for the viewer to decipher on their own terms instead of the director, and writers, spoon-feeding it to the audience.
In all, IN THE TALL GRASS has become one of my favorite films of the year. I felt very drawn to most of the characters and was incredibly impressed with how much tension and dread was built around a field of grass. There is also a simplicity within the execution of the story which I think greatly helps when the more supernatural elements come into play. In all, IN THE TALL GRASS is playing with the idea of redemption and giving the audience a look into how that affects the flawed nature of humanity through the characters presented. It’s a fantastical story that will keep viewers captivated as the horrors unfold while simultaneously challenging them to look deeper within themselves. IN THE TALL GRASS will be released globally on Netflix October 4, 2019.
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