Deep in the dense grass that surrounds the plot of Vincenzo Natali’s In the Tall Grass is a spectacular horror film. Unfortunately, one gets lost trying to find it. Around every turn there are markers of what the film is striving to be, but never quite achieves. Much like the film’s protagonist, the experience becomes dizzying and frustrating as the path to unlocking the film is continually blocked by murky leaps in logic.
Based on a novella by Stephen King and Joe Hill, In the Tall Grass has a rather ingenious premise. While making a roadside pit stop, siblings Becky (Laysla De Oliveira) and Cal (Avery Whitted) hear the cries of a young boy lost within a field of tall grass. Seeing as the only thing nearby is a closed church, the pair venture in to rescue him. As they travel further into the grass they discover that the boy, Tobin (Will Buie Jr.), they are seeking is not the only one trapped. His parents Ross (Patrick Wilson) and Natalie (Rachel Wilson) are both lost within the field as well.
Separated and disoriented Becky, who is pregnant, and Carl each begin to suspect something unusual is afoot. Losing track of time, it is as if the grass is continuously shifting. The only constant seems to be the bodies of dead things, such as animals, and a giant rock in the middle of the field with ancient carvings on it. However, when Becky’s ex Travis (Harrison Gilbertson), who is on a mission to find the missing siblings, turns up in the field, the group begins to uncover the sinister secrets that lurk in the grass.
Similar to his iconic film Cube, Natali finds much tension in the film’s minimalist locations. Outside of a brief foray into an abandoned bowling alley, much of the action takes place within the tall grass. The mixture of digital and practical visual effects, sweeping cinematography and strong art direction makes for a genuinely unnerving experience. Unfortunately, the film never quite lives up to its technical prowess.
In the Tall Grass spends so much time building its eerie atmosphere that it never gives the plot time to properly unfold. This leads to many forced moments of expository dialogue that haphazardly attempt to fill in the numerous gaps and generate tension. They do neither.
Since so little depth is given to the characters, many of the conflicts, take the one between Cal and Travis for example, feel forced. It also does not help matters that Ross’ journey into madness is more comical than terrifying. By the time the film really delves into tribal imagery and the darker side of Mother Nature’s bond with the rock, one has already lost interest in the main character’s plight.
In the Tall Grass had the elements to be a great film, sadly it gets tangled in its own ridiculous weeds.