Quick Hit: A supernatural man vs. nature story that was probably better left to the page.
First off, let me apologize for the hiatus. We obviously have lives outside of DFP (shocking, I know), but it’s one of those things that happens when you do something purely for the fun of it. I’ve been focusing on a performance I have coming up in December (finally bagged the lead role in something!). I’d also like to say that I’ve been working on some fiction writing (who knows, maybe I’ll actually finish it this time my friends), so apologies if I get a bit rambly in the Halloween Horror posts this month. I’m used to a format where I flex a bit more right now!
One of the issues when adapting anything written by King (or at this point, his two sons) is that everything is so incredibly developed that it is nearly impossible to bring across on screen. Personally, I think that is why some of the director’s shorter stories have become more beloved – The Shawshank Redemption and Stand by Me are two of the writer’s highest ranked (as far as IMDB anyway) works, and they are both short stories. Stories like The Dark Tower, or even IT, which excelled when only focused on half of the story, are just terribly unwieldly when you’re trying to push them down to a manageable (and sellable) length. In the Tall Grass is a short novella written by King and his son Joe hill, So it seemed like a pretty natural fit for Netflix to take another short story and adapt it for the screen, particularly when pairing it with the incredibly talented cult director Vincenzo Natali, who directed The Cube and Splice, among episodes of the terrific Hannibal.
Unfortunately, however, the story gets out of hand pretty quickly. But, as usual, I’m getting ahead of myself, Dear Reader, so let me back up a bit, shall we?
In the Tall Grass starts with a man and his very pregnant sister traveling. She starts to feel sick, so he pulls over so she can throw up (it’s not a Stephen King story without vomit after all). But before they get back on the road, they hear the haunting calls of a young boy that is lost in a field of grass (grass that is nearly 10 feet high). Against their better judgement and nearly all common sense rules, they go into the field. They quickly find themselves lost and separated, and notice some strange qualities about the grass – namely that distance, time, and sound seem to shift around constantly. At one point, they jump trying to see each other and seem rather close. The next moment they do so again and are hundreds of feet apart. It’s visually jarring, which is Natali’s style, and incredibly effective.
Alas, a better movie would have slimmed down the story to focus on the despair that one would feel in a maze that never allows you to move out of it (like Labyrinth but with less Bowie and less hope). But instead, we get more characters entering the tall grass, including a family with a creepy little boy named Tobin and his father, played by Patrick Wilson. Wilson is terrific, channeling his best Jack Torrance/Jack Nicholson and chewing every bit of the grass around him. But his performance seems to be the only one that realizes that he’s in a supernatural thriller about killer grass. The rest of the tone of the film is so bluntly stark and serious that there is very little at all. While this may have been purposeful, and at times, effective (the aforementioned jumping scene), the fact that one of the leading (and arguably most famous) cast members doesn’t seem to realize his performance is different from everyone else makes for some jarring tonal moments.
Combine that with the fact that, at times, the CGI (in particular the CGI blood) is downright laughable, and it makes the film a huge disappointment for me. You can find the good in the film – the stark black mud of the field juxtaposed against the lush greens of the field, the lightning storm at the end of the film – but it just isn’t enough to justify the length (nearly 2 hours) of a film about a supernatural field of grass. Pared down, this could have been a slim, thriller mystery. As it is, this film finishes as just a “D+”. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again soon!
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"