It is all too rare that we see a movie not only establish an intriguing premise, but manage to carry the intrigue forward for the full running time. Written and directed by Vincenzo Natali (based on a novella by Stephen King and Joe Hill), “In the Tall Grass” manages this feat and is all the better for it.
The Netflix original starts out simply enough – a brother and sister, Cal (Avery Whitted) and Becky (Laysla De Oliveira) stop on the side of the road by an old church when the pregnant Becky becomes nauseous. The siblings hear a boy’s voice calling out for help from the tall grass opposite the church. Cal and Becky head into the grass and their world is never the same again.
Well, there are weird things going on inside the field – the grass seems to teleport people around, there are timey-wimey questions, and there’s a big black rock in the middle of the place that may or may not have something to do with the weirdness. Cal; Becky; the boy, Tobin (Will Buie Jr.); and his parents, Natalie and Ross (Rachel Wilson and Patrick Wilson) appear and disappear and may or may not be losing their minds. There’s anger and upset and strife and even Becky’s ex-boyfriend, Travis (Harrison Gilbertson) there in the tall grass.
The question, maybe, should not be how the characters’ worlds change, but rather what the audience is supposed to get from this, what is the larger point. After all, there does have to be a larger point, doesn’t there? One doesn’t simply make a movie with freaky things happen in a scary place for no reason, does one?
And there it is, the crux of the matter, the thing that will cause people to keep pondering “In the Tall Grass” after Netflix has moved on to suggesting 30 other original series/films/trailers/whatever – what is the takeaway message. What are we meant to learn?
Most simply, and forgive the Rod Serling nature of this, perhaps one shouldn’t run headlong into a field without knowing what’s on the other side, especially when that field leads to… the twilight zone. Not that the movie exists within said universe, but it’s point seems to be to contemplate the nature of people – are we who we are due to circumstances or something greater? Is there a force pushing us in a direction or are we free to make our own choices? If you have the capability for evil, are you evil?
Natali points the viewer at all of these questions. He opens that door and gives us a quick look inside before shutting it again. He wraps it in this thriller about death and life and love and ancient rituals, but what it’s really about is the evil and good that can exist within us all.
“In the Tall Grass” is brilliantly crafted. There are plenty of long slow moving shots through the grass, both with and without people in them. There are time jumps and scary moments. There is just enough backstory to keep us wondering what has happened and just enough questions to keep us moving forward. The promise of the truth is always right around the corner, with Natali leaving us breadcrumbs to keep us on the right track.
In that way, it is terrifying and wonderful. It is a very pretty film to watch that manages to be completely horrifying. It is a mystery that keeps one involved straight through the running time, giving the viewer constantly shifting opinions about the characters and what is taking place. It is a great thriller deserving of one’s full attention.
Whether or not this appears in your ever-increasing Netflix carousel of suggestions or not, search for it there within the Netflix library once it premieres on October 4th. It’s worth the trip.
photo credit: Netflix