Another day, another Netflix Original horror, and a third Stephen King adaptation in recent months This one, In the Tall Grass, is directed by Cube helmer Vincenzo Natali (who, intriguingly, had been poised to adapt JG Ballard’s High Rise before Ben Wheatley stepped in), and it starts off with a simple eeriness.
Pregnant Becky, jilted by her boyfriend, is on the road with her brother Cal (unknowns Laysla De Oliveria and Avery Whitted) when a sudden wave of nausea prompts a quick stop at the side of the road, next to a field of impossibly tall grass, which I can only assume is a very American thing. Upon hearing a small boy’s cries for help, the two deliberate before going in to find him. Calls to and from the boy continue, but the siblings don’t seem to be getting any closer to him, and the two are separated after no more than a couple of errant steps. Soon, the trio realise that the grass is not as straightforward as it seems. But, hey! Luckily they run into the boy’s father, Ross (Patrick Wilson), who seems all too happy to help.
Hoo, boy. To say it gets weirder from there is an understatement. No spoilers of course, but it’s safe to say that Netflix isn’t bound by the usual content limitations that US (and sometimes UK) horror tends to find itself operating under. Think French or Nordic boundaries, and you’ll find yourself suitably prepared.
Performance-wise, the two unknown leads give performances so natural and nuanced that you forget they don’t have their own Wikipedia pages. Tobin, the boy, is given impressive presence and soulful depth through the performance of tiny human Will Buie, Jr. Not since The Umbrella Academy’s Five have I seen a child actor who can pull off innocent and world-weary at the same time. Kudos, little one. Meanwhile, Wilson chews the scenery, the subtitles and the edges of my keyboard as the story takes its inevitable but disappointing turn into familiar trope territory.
It’s not that I wasn’t expecting a genuine story to unfold, but downshifting gears into something more ordinary betrays the disquieting mystery of the first two acts. Perhaps it’s the pitfall of adapting a short story. That said, this is one of the better King adaptations, and will make you think twice about stopping by the side of a cornfield.