Starring: Harrison Gilbertson, Laysla De Oliveira, Patrick Wilson
Director: Vincenzo Natali
Running Time: 101 mins
In The Tall Grass is a Canadian film about a brother and sister who venture into a field of tall grass when they hear a young boy’s cry for help. However, they soon realise that not only will finding him be difficult, but finding a way out will be impossible.
With a simple, striking and unique premise, In The Tall Grass sets up to be a brilliant sleeper hit of horror, but after an hour and a half of catastrophically messy storytelling, ridiculous twists, dull tension and melodramatic performances, it ends up as a hugely disappointing watch, and one that certainly doesn’t come anywhere close to the style of independent horror it’s trying to emulate.
Based on a novel co-authored by the legendary Stephen King, the vibe that In The Tall Grass is going for is fairly clear from the start. It’s not a gruesome, jumpscare-oriented horror, but more of the eerie, mind-bending sort that many of King’s greatest stories (Pet Sematary, The Dead Zone, The Shining, Misery) are so renowned for.
However, while it starts off in moderately intriguing and eerie fashion, the second that In The Tall Grass really gets into the meat of its story, it falls apart spectacularly. As strange and confusing as the seemingly randomly shifting field of tall grass is, the story brings in an element of time distortion to go with that perplexing physical space.
In an attempt to pull you into a narrative maze as confusing as finding a route out of the tall grass, this film takes on an admittedly unique, but painfully messy structure, immediately destroying the clever simplicity of its opening phase; simplicity which was creating brilliant tension on its own.
Now, that’s not to say watching a couple of characters wandering aimlessly through a field would have been an enthralling watch over the course of a full hour and a half, but it would have at least been a lot more coherent and engaging than the direction that the film ultimately takes, bringing in a bloated collection of characters, secondary motives and twists that turn what could have been a very sharp and simple thriller into an absolute mess.
And to make matters worse, you have a couple of central performances – notably those by Harrison Gilbertson, Avery Whitted and especially Patrick Wilson – that are beyond over-the-top. Some of the more mellow performances balance the film out a little better, but the deranged, shrill and at times laughably bad turns from a couple of the leads make it even harder to ever really engross yourself in the story at hand, or at least take it in the slightest bit seriously.
In The Tall Grass may start off fairly strongly, with a great air of mystery, a simple premise and a mind-bending brand of horror. However, all of the payoffs to that strong set-up are a disappointment, achieved over the course of an hour and a half of frankly preposterous and convoluted storytelling that never injects the sense of fear and tension the film is so desperate to create, and that’s why I’m giving the film a 5.9 overall.