Stephen King adaptations are all across the board, especially these days, but Vincenzo Natali’s moody, atmospheric In The Tall Grass (a Netflix film) pleasantly surprised me and it further surprises me that it’s getting such negative reception. This is essentially a fairly simple premise whipped up into a complex spiderweb of narrative tricks and elliptical turns which could have overall put people off but there’s no denying that it grabs you with, sticks to and squarely lands its story with effective atmosphere, immersive storytelling and, for the most part anyways, solid performances.
Director Natali also directed the cult horror flick Cube, and one can see the similarities in setting when you consider this is set in a giant shifting maze of tall grass with an ever present, omnipotent malevolence brewing away within it. A brother and sister (Laysla De Oliveria & Avery Whitted) are driving through the states to San Diego when they hear a child’s voice calling for help from a vast field of tall grass lining a desolate highway. When they step inside to investigate and help… well that’s where the fun begins. This labyrinth of whispering vegetation traps them in confusion, moves them mysteriously around and becomes increasingly sinister. Things get especially weird when when they meet the father and husband (Patrick Wilson) of another family who strayed into this maze a while ago and are still wandering around wondering wtf is going on. Soon reality shifts, time begins to have no meaning or linear progression compared to events unfolding on the outside of the grass and everything seems to be controlled by a strange, hypnotic monolith at the heart of the maze with weird cave paintings all over it.
It’s a bizarre, whackadoo premise but also kind of right up my alley; I love horror films about people stuck in otherworldly places where the rules of physics, time and space don’t seem to matter. The performances range across the board and aren’t all up to par but Wilson steals the show as usual, doing a delicately hysterical balancing act of straight arrow affability and diabolical menace, he really sends it in every role. The atmosphere within the maze is overpowering and brought to life by an ethereal score from Mark Korven, kaleidoscopic framing/editing choices and a prevailing sense of disoriented, panicky hopelessness, while the story itself is one that can get pretty complex and seemingly incoherent but actually does work itself out step by step if you’re paying strict attention and letting everything wash over you. Definitely worth a watch.