By Ted Sparks, Second Year, Physics
This adaptation of Stephen King’s novella In the Tall Grass (2012) is both a hit and a miss. Whilst mistakes are made in character development and plot, the film’s delightful cinematography saves it from falling into the Netflix abyss.
In the Tall Grass (2019) doesn’t meet expectations, but while most Stephen King flicks are hit or miss, this is both. The LA Times cries the King adaptation ‘runs too long and repeats itself too much,’ while the New York Times deals a more surgical yet brutal blow, describing a large chunk of it as ‘a fevered mishmash of spiritual and supernatural nonsense’.
The 101 minute film opens with a heavily pregnant Becky (Laysla De Oliveira) being driven across the country by her brother, Cal (Avery Whitted), to meet the couple who will adopt her daughter. They stop by the side of the road to take care of her morning sickness. They hear a young boy calling for help, lost in a field of tall grass and, of course, they enter.
They soon discover this is no normal field and the laws of space and time are optional. They spend the rest of the film searching for a way out, while Becky’s ex and the boy and his family tag along.
The obvious mistakes here are in both character and plot development
For a Netflix production, the cinematography is a real surprise. A stark contrast of claustrophobic close-ups and unheeded vertigo-inducing long shots translate the complexity and enormity of their situation. There is no pioneering camera work, but it felt fresh and well placed in this story.
The obvious mistakes here are in both character and plot development. Director Vincenzo Natali fills the cast with strangers, and that is how most of the characters stay. I’ll mention Patrick Wilson briefly: a waste of time and casting budget.
There is no pioneering camera work, but it felt fresh and well placed in this story
For a film about a wild and unpredictable setting, something Natali has done before in The Cube (1997), the story runs more like an instruction manual. Another, more important, mistake is in Natali’s disregard of several plot elements in the novella it’s based on. The grass is used almost to resolve things, where it should grow into the workings of the puzzles the characters face.
I want to stress how the cinematography keeps this lawn from drying out
Where the grass should be the main problem the characters face, or else grow into the foundations of any others, here it is used to de-escalate and almost save the people we care so little about. A redemption is teased from the start, but in one of the more dramatic twists, we are left wondering if the story needed it more than the characters.
While I’ve been relentless with the shortcomings, I want to stress how the cinematography keeps this lawn from drying out. The visuals and set were well thought out and not the stereotypical haunted house Netflix often banks on.
It was a relief to see a few well-placed jump scares instead of blind firing them into the audience like a fugitive on the run, another modern horror tactic as effective as sewing a tear in your jeans with overcooked spaghetti.
In more than a few parts, In the Tall Grass feels like a film you’d usually buy tickets for, and this redeems it. If the evolution and success of Netflix’s series applies here, it’s an indication their films are headed in the right direction.
Featured image:IMDb / Netflix
Did this adaptation live up to Stephen King's original novel for you?