Lost in the weeds

Review: In the Tall Grass is a creeper but it won't make you soil yourself

Director    Vincenzo Natali
Written By    Vincenzo Natali
Starring    Laysla De Oliveira, Avery Whitted, Patrick Wilson, Harrison Gilbertson, Rachel Wilson
Release    04 OCT (US) 04 OCT (UK)
Review: In the Tall Grass is a creeper but it won't make you soil yourself Movie Review


Grade C+

Luke Whiston

14th October 2019

"This is like one of those rubbish Stephen King film adaptations" I blurted out not long after In The Tall Grass had started - which was fine because I was watching it on Netflix at home. A few minutes later while checking out the film's IMDB page on my phone - again, fine - I saw it actually was a Stephen King adaptation, that also happened to be rubbish. Maybe if I'd been paying more attention the film would have seemed less rubbish. Or maybe if it was less rubbish I wouldn't have been tempted by my phone, despite being a near-40-year-old adult who should know better. Maybe cinemas should be cheaper. Maybe Netflix shouldn't exist so I'm forced to go to a cinema and concentrate. Basically whatever makes it someone else's fault except mine.

It's hard to criticise Stephen King because, well, he's Stephen King the Master of Horror, and I'm a shitmuncher from nowhere whose only creative foray into the genre is a screenplay where tapeworms grow bigger inside people's guts until they explode. In Wales. What makes it harder is his famed speedy output, meaning if one of his many novels or short stories released over the last five decades doesn't work for you, then why not try something else? Cars, rats, clowns, dogs, hotels; he'll get you somehow.

It's as if King is on a quest to make everything on the face of the earth scary. Which is possibly why he and his co-writer - son Joe Hill - have chosen something literally found on the face of the earth wherever you are on the planet as the conduit for some spooky shenanigans: grass (don't @ me Antarctica stans). Specifically long grass, which is the scariest grass because you can't see over it. Somewhere M. Night Shyamalan is cursing himself, and then wondering how he can make a film about a jealous man who accidentally curses himself, and then wondering how he can sell it to Netflix.

Just thinking about mowing that is freaking me out

This latest Stephen King book-to-film adaptation is written and directed by Vincenzo Natali, who has a long career littered with interesting enough heady sci-fi and supernatural thrillers in the low-mid budget range - Cube and Splice to name a couple of notable efforts - making him a natural fit to tackle King's 'everyman fishing a philosophy book out of a rusty bin' material. So you'd think between them they'd be able to reach a satisfying conclusion.

That last sentence came loaded with a silent "wouldn't you?" on the end, in case you didn't catch it. As per usual with adaptations of King's work there are elements in the books that have gotten lost on the way to the screen. Whether because the filmmakers failed to capture the atmosphere, or something that only your imagination can visualise looked a big skewiff on the screen, or the story was simply too thin to fill an hour and a half to begin with.

There are lots of reasons these things often don't work, and King's books always seem to suffer from something that derails them despite the best intentions of everyone involved - King has been known to be quite accommodating and praising about writers changing the endings of his stories for the film version. Although there's some irony in his most successful adaptation being one he hated so much, he personally wrote it into a TV mini-series that was truly frightfully awful.

"I've got a small moustache, of course you can trust me"

In this spin of the King Bingo Wheel (Kingo?) it's the blade-thin plot, which no amount of strange goings-on can conceal. Roughly: Becky DeMuth (Laysla De Oliveira) and brother Cal (Avery Whitted) pull over by a creepy old church next to a field of tall grass. From inside the grass they hear a child calling, so decide to investigate. Soon they become separated, lost, find each other dead, find each other alive, start all over again, and all sorts of other weird things that have something to do with the grass, a big rock, and some ancient carvings. And then they start meeting other people.

It all sounds intriguingly mysterious, but in play it's a frustratingly wrought sequence of vague weirdness that seems to be weird for the sake of it, until finally it has to somehow end. People argue and fight over which path to take, there's a thing and it makes people go crazy, religious handbagging ensues - you know the drill if you've seen The Tommyknockers or The Mist. But without anything of real note to cling onto, when things do come to a conclusion you're just left with the disappointment of yet another Stephen King adaptation that fails to live up to the name.

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