*Warning: Spoilers Ahead*
It’s good to see the horror genre picking itself up these days and I’m sure Stephen King is having a grand time. But not every horror movie or novella needs to be turned into a movie. I’ve always respected horror as a topic and as a sub-genre, but sometimes it’s okay to cut your losses and move on to a better project. Of course, I’m talking about the movie, In The Tall Grass on Netflix.
The movie does a lot of things right and deserves a lot of praise: great acting by relatively unknown actors, an interesting premise, and some scenes which were genuinely frightening.
The movie takes place in the middle of nowhere America (a common theme in Stephen King books) where Becky and her brother Cal stop by the side of a road near an empty church alongside a stretch of unusually tall grass. They both hear the shout of a boy lost in the grass, decide to go in, and promptly get lost. Standard horror movie build up.
Shortly thereafter both of them realize that the grass not only shifts around but also distorts where sound comes from making it impossible to tell where someone is. The movie goes on to introduce the little boy Tobin who was separated from his mother, father, and dog in the tall grass. Not long after Travis, Becky’s ex-boyfriend and the father of her unborn child, tracks her down. He enters the tall grass and joins everyone else as they do their best to escape.
The movie follows a few simple laws. The grass can shift around and mess with time and space. There is a black rock in the center of the tall grass that fell from the sky that once touched will allow you to see how to get out but also allow evil spirits to possess you and make you kill everyone. If Travis dies, then everyone is doomed to continue to enter the tall grass until things change.
The movie manages to keep up the constant sense of dread and terror as unknowns are slowly revealed and for characters randomly popping in and out of the grass.
I can even appreciate the Stephen King classic markers: other worldly powers from the sky (the black rock), Native American Spirits haunting the tall grass, and a setting that takes place in the last area that you would think of. There’s a lot of elements to like about this movie.
But…there are things that make this movie a bit unbearable. The movie is based off the book of the same title and even though the concept of reality warping fields of grass is interesting…the movie tends to drag. There comes a point where the audience is fully aware that they are (literally) watching people shuffle around in grass…for over an hour of run time. When your audience “realizes” that they’re just watching people walk around, you need to rethink some scenes.
Despite all around good acting the premise was smothered but too many other concepts trying to all act at the same time. The black rock mentioned earlier came from space and is the reason for the tall grass having power over time, space, and reality. However, it begs to question–why even bring in Native Americans at all? Wasn’t the idea of an alien meteorite enough? Mixing these two together could work but there simply wasn’t enough build up to make it believable.
Speaking of the Native Americans, the movie then takes an unusual detour making Becky sacrifice her baby–for no reason. In situations like this, movies justify this by making an appeasement towards some sort of god or as a major plot point of the movie. But here it was simply another unnecessary horror element that could have been put to better work in another movie. Here–it was simply disturbing and not plot centered.
Certain areas like the church itself (which was called the church of the black rock) could have been built up more since it did seem to have a role in the movie. The producers also made the fatal area (as seen in other horror movies now) by shoehorning in an element of drama between several of the characters as they are all running for their lives. Most viewers today notice these things quickly and are disappointed because horror is a unique genre where drama needs to be dwelt with in the right places. Not when you’re running for your life.
But what made me want to deter others from this movie was the ending. Horror is difficult to finish but that’s not an excuse.
In this round through the tall grass, Travis and Tobin are the only survivors with no way of knowing how to get out. Travis touches the rock, realizes how to get out, and takes Tobin to the edge of the grass (without succumbing to the spirits somehow). He then magically “picks up” Tobin and places him in the steeple of the church.
Tobin runs out and stops Becky and Cal from ever entering the grass. They take him, turn their car around, and drive down the road to a police station.
The problem with this is how they set up time, space and reality. Tobin’s family in this new scenario never went in the grass. In fact, they are driving down the same road as Becky, Cal, and the previous Tobin. There are now 2 Tobins in the world. This is a paradox.
Also, the last scene shows the possessed Travis dying peacefully in the grass as the curse is over. But Travis was already driving down the road to find Becky and Cal. So, what happens when Becky and Cal meet Travis down the road and Tobin tells them all that there was another Travis who just sacrificed himself?
It’s mostly the final moments of the movie that make you see how a great premise can be smothered by too many other elements. The idea of reality warping tall grass really is enough of a horror concept and should have remained the only theme.