In the Tall Grass: A Review
As many others in the horror community, I'm a life-long Stephen King fan. A Constant Reader to the bone (and beyond). I used to scour his website in the ancient days of yore before social media was a thing, reading the promos for Wizard and Glass. I even wrote a paper in college for my senior project comparing Different Seasons to Sound and the Fury. I had a Stephen King-themed table at my wedding.
Like I said. Lifer.
So, I feel pretty confident saying the past two years have been wonderful for SK fans. New literature. New movies. Remakes (eh). Glorious.
Some of them have been great (looking at you, It Chapter 1); some of them have been dumpster-fire adajacent ( *cough* DARK TOWER *cough*). However, if I'm sure of anything, it's that SK's short works translate well into cinema. Shawshank Redemption, The Body--excellent.
I was thrilled when In the Tall Grass was announced, but not for the reasons you might be thinking. For as long as I can remember, I've always watched the movie after having read the book.
THE BOOK IS ALWAYS BETTER. The movie can be great (Misery) but doesn't hold a candle to the inner workings of my imagination.
For In the Tall Grass, however, I decided to put myself in a bubble and experience the Netflix original without the prior textual comparison. I know. Crazy talk.
Here's what I knew before watching:
1. Co-written with Joe Hill and originally appeared in Esquire.
2. Twitter was abuzz about *that* scene, so I assumed there'd be something visceral and disturbing.
3. The promo pictures were too similar to 1922.
Not much, and two of those are assumption or opinion. I have to admit, I felt like I was living dangerously. A rebel. Who watches a Stephen King movie without having read the book?
Pretzels in hand, I got the kids to sleep and finally sat down with the husband last night to watch it.
Overall, without too many spoilers, I thought it was pretty well done.
Here's WHAT WORKED: (Some spoilers)
1. No explanation for the long grass. I hate when authors or directors feel like everything needs to be handed to the audience in a perfectly-wrapped gift box. In the Tall Grass doesn't do that. It drops us in the middle of a problem and doesn't agree to solve it.
2. The actors were decent and sufficiently creepy. At no point when I was watching did I wish it had been recast. I may have been annoyed by some of their blatantly stupid choices, but I wasn't so irritated by their overacting or underacting that I lamented their presence.
3. Visuals and sound effects. In the Tall Grass is beautifully shot, with striking, vivid images and pops of color. Additionally, the squelching, slurping, chanting, and silence are all strategically used to heighten tension and suspense.
4. Time as a construct. Non-linear story telling at its finest. This detail felt more like Joe Hill's contribution. Definite nods to NOS4A2 implicit in the looping. 10/10 would recommend.
5. The primitive fear surrounding pregnancy. I could talk about the use of pregnancy as a literary plot device, both literal and symbolic, all day. Introducing a character so far along in her pregnancy and exposing her to the same horrors as the non-pregnant characters is a smart move. We expect there to be some sort of safeguard in place for an expectant mother. Something that screams OFF LIMITS when it comes to the scares. The urge is to protect her. Removing that safety? All bets are off. Nobody is safe or excluded. No happy endings guaranteed. This part, in particular, reminded me of *that* scene in Mother!
That, to me, was the most effective element of In the Tall Grass. Not only the unease that develops watching the bubble dissolve, but the aftermath, as well. The bloody, blurry scenes where the audience isn't sure if the character's dreaming or in the throes of the most traumatic experience of her life--GIVE ME ALL THE AMBIGUITY. Give me all the gross-out, horrific, I-can't-believe-that-happened moments.
What DIDN'T WORK: (Some Spoilers)
1. Characters making stupid choices to further the plot. For the life of me, I can't stand when characters purposely act against common sense in order to introduce the conflict. If Becky and Cal had been missing for two months when Travis decides to search for them, why the hell did he not IMMEDIATELY call the police when he found their abandoned car in the middle of nowhere? Her book's laying on the ground? CALL FOR HELP. DO NOT GO INTO THE GRASS. A man starts spouting crazy ideals and his visibly-frantic wife tells you he's dangerous? Don't give him an indefinite timeline to profess his deluded/possessed ambitions.
2. The (happy?) ending. In the Tall Grass would've been better served with an ambiguous ending. Maybe, dare I say, even a sad ending. With everything working against our protagonists for so long, it felt like a cop-out for the culmination of choices to end as it did.
Overall, In the Tall Grass is worth a watch, especially during the month of October. Will I read the story and analyze all the plot changes? ABSOLUTELY.
Thanks for sticking with me for my first Stephen King post/review/rant. Have you watched In the Tall Grass yet? What were your thoughts?