A Review of Netflix’s Latest Contribution to Horror – “In the Tall Grass”

Television and film adaptations of Stephen King’s fiction are bountiful, and now his son Joe Hill’s written work is becoming more and more present in the film medium. The apple certainly didn’t fall far from the tree, as Hill writes largely in related genres to his father, and the two often collaborate on short stories and novellas. Most recently, Hill published a short story anthology titled Full Throttle in early October 2019. This included the short story "In the Tall Grass," which he and his father worked on together. The story was adapted into a Netflix Original film to be released around the same time as the anthology, and it definitely does not disappoint!

Photo credit: Dread Central

The first half of this film has a classic Stephen King vibe, interlaced with the younger voice of Joe Hill. It starts out with a seemingly simple premise, two people going into a field of grass that’s taller than them to try and find a boy yelling for help, but things quickly start taking a turn for the strange. It’s the sort of Midwestern-America folkloric horror story that fans will recognize from King’s Children of the Corn and the like.

Once the film really starts going, the tone shifts into one clearly influenced by the weird stories of H. P. Lovecraft. Unexplained timeline overlaps and spatial discontinuity with an omnipotent rock at the center of it all complement King and Hill’s respective narrative styles with ease.

Photo credit: Dread Central

When it comes to short stories, it is to be expected that a lot of things will be left unanswered. This can present some difficulties when translating the story into a feature-length film, as at least some of the narrative uncertainties must be either cleared up or brushed over at the screenwriter’s and director’s discretion. In the Tall Grass director, Vincenzo Natali, succeeds at shaping a cohesive, longer story from the slimmer source material, all the while maintaining Hill and King’s distinctive voices.

The few weak spots in the film take hold in places where the original story didn’t have space to venture, which is perhaps to be expected. At times, the film can feel repetitive and leaves audiences yearning for a clearer conclusion. However, I personally can appreciate this as contributing to the story’s overarching sense of disorienting suffocation and thus enhancing the scare factor quite a bit. Longtime fans of Stephen King especially have often learned to look past the unexplained and strange in favor of appreciating the art of the work as it is, and I believe In the Tall Grass sets foot into this category.

All in all, In the Tall Grass is great fun for those seeking fitting stories this spooky season, and will not disappoint fans of Stephen King or Joe Hill. I highly recommend picking up a copy of Hill’s anthology Full Throttle, which of course includes In the Tall Grass (Since it came out so recently, I was even able to get a signed copy at a local bookstore here in Boston; see if you can find any for yourself.)!

Keep an eye out for a Netflix adaptation of Joe Hill’s fantastical horror comic book series Locke & Key, to be released in 2020!

 

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