Fantastic Fest Review: In the Tall Grass

Stephen King/Joe Hill story finds terror in the tiniest blades

This screen adaptation of a 2012 novella by Stephen King and Joe Hill is a good demonstration of how frights can be evoked from the most ordinary things.

In the movies, the seemingly bucolic surroundings of nature can turn without warning into menacing environments full of danger and malice. Like Hitchcock’s birds turning Bodega Bay into a killing field, Vincenzo Natali’s In the Tall Grass turns a sun-dappled field of grass located in the middle of Kansas into a secret portal to hell which exists outside of time and physical logic. By the time the film is over, you’ll be convinced that all of nature should be emblazoned with a warning sign: Enter at Your Own Risk.

Siblings Becky (Laysla De Oliverira) and Cal (Avery Whitted) are traveling cross country by car. Becky is pregnant and when they pull over to so that Becky can vomit outside the car door, they hear a child’s voice calling for help in the tall grass field alongside them. The voice sounds terrified but very close to the road, so they park the car and venture in. Bad idea. The Good Samaritans quickly become victims of their environment and suffer in ways that defy human understanding. Natali’s adaptation differs from the novella in some details, but as he demonstrated in his first film feature Cube in 1997, Natali is a master of mazes. As aural and physical cues grow ever more irrational, and the characters they encounter within the grass become increasingly scary and cult-driven, we become stuck in the grass with Becky and Cal, desperate for explanation and relief.

The performances are all solid (with Patrick Wilson injecting some extra glee into his unhinged character), and writer/director Natali and cinematographer Craig Wrobleski wreaking fiendish menace from the grass jungle. Surely, they’re not in Kansas anymore.

Although the film played beautifully on the big screen during its premiere at Fantastic Fest, In the Tall Grass is set to begin airing on Netflix on October 4. The film’s blades of grass are perfectly suited for display on smaller screens where the innocuous fields can have the effect of enveloping viewers within the safety of home. The moral of the story, perhaps? Don’t ever let the grass grow under one’s feet.

In the Tall Grass

World Premiere

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Fantastic Fest, Fantastic Fest 2019, Netflix, Vincenzo Natali, In the Tall Grass, Stephen King, Joe Hill, Laysla De Oliverira, Avery Whitte, Patrick Wilson

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