TV-MA for some mild to severe brutality. Yeah, I'm vague. Lean towards severe. There's people on people violence. There's a lot that's left to the imagination. But then there's also some weird invasive stuff that comes with the titular tall grass. It's more brutal than I thought it was going to be, but seasoned horror fans might find this movie to be pretty tame. Regardless, well earned TV-MA.
DIRECTOR: Vincenzo Natali
In high school, I started reading Stephen King. My parents were really reticent about letting me read books like Fear Street. When the training wheels came off, I dove deep into the Stephen King stuff. But then I found that Stephen King wasn't considered "REAL" literature. Being the snob that I am, I turned my back on on King, despite the fact that I really liked the books. A few years ago, on vacation with my wife around the UK, I picked up the firs Dark Tower book and just inhaled it. I loved it. I knew that The Dark Tower was considered the the snob's Stephen King. This opened so many doors for me in terms of re-engaging with King. Even more so, reading King gave me an even better perk. I discovered his son, Joe Hill's, writing. It was oddly even more better. (I vacillate between the merits of both writers.)
I didn't think that I could convince my wife to watch a horror movie this Halloween. Hallmark Channel invaded our home early. But she was super cool with it one night. I don't know what happened, but I wasn't going to question it. I heard some folks chatting about In the Tall Grass. I didn't know if it was good. I don't know if it was bad. I just know that FOMO was hitting hard and I convinced Lauren to watch In the Tall Grass. Lauren, despite claiming otherwise, doesn't hate King. We've done a couple books on tape with Stephen King and she's mostly enjoyed them. Considering that In the Tall Grass was a streaming horror movie with some buzz about it, we turned it on. I don't really regret it for a second. Without beating around the bush anymore (pun intended), In the Tall Grass delivers on giving the audience the unexpected without being a super tight script.
I read In the Tall Grass as being a haunting tale that plays up its simplicity. That gut fear of being lost as the central conceit is a smart one. It has that element that the best Stephen Moffat episodes of Doctor Who had of embracing something that is illogically scary and ramping it up to eleven. Part of me wondered how a movie like this could hold its conceit for the entire length of a film. From what I understand, In the Tall Grass is a short story. How could a feature length film exist on something that is really just a concept piece. Well, that's where the unexpected happens. In a way, In the Tall Grass is a less successful version of The Decent. The grass is scary enough. Being lost without hope is scary enough. Cube played up on the same thing. But the curveball take what could be a really classy film and make it something really in the wheelhouse of both King and Hill. King especially likes to take the normality of white America and presenting the inner psychopath in that person. That part reads like King. But there's something about In the Tall Grass that really scratches a sweet itch that kind of reads like candy disguised as a complex dish. Since this entire area is a spoilery area, I guess I should just talk about the weird time travel stuff going on in this. In a million years would I classify In the Tall Grass as a time travel movie. But In the Tall Grass grasps some of my favorite elements from time travel fiction. Tall Grass and its use of the paradox does something that lets me engage with a film more than I normally do. The thing about good time travel stories, especially ones that involve paradox, is that it forces conversation. The reason that this entire blog exists is because I desperately want to talk to people about the movies I'm watching.
But In the Tall Grass kind of commits a crime in the process. The thing about the whole movie is that it cheats to get where it is supposed to go. King and Hill's story is that there's really no solving the events of the movie. We can relate to the characters. We know what is good and what is evil. I can even bend and say that we understand the consequences of the climax of the film. There are real repercussions. But like some of the more fun movies that I enjoy, the movie doesn't really make a ton of sense. It lets you know that the movie doesn't make a lot of sense. Sometimes I absolutely adore this in film. I keep coming back to Predator for a movie that doesn't try to explain anything about what's going on, but we just have to accept it. King and Hill's story really pushes their luck with engaging an audience. While watching In the Tall Grass, I kept vocalizing theories about what was going on. About 60% of the movie, I realized that I was an idiot and there was no cohesive background to what was going on. There were things that I guessed right, but ultimately, none of those ideas really would matter. Yeah, the multiple corpses element was cool. But me solving elements of the time travel element are so removed from what the story is all about. I had an epiphany about how details were working, but the story is just a mess of chaos. That's fun and all, but that isn't ultimately satisfying.
There's something very Twilight Zone about the whole thing. Imagine, if you will, that Rod Serling just pumped a bunch of blood into a story and that was the event. There's this neat little bow on the movie with the protagonist, Travis, having this whole redemption arc to go through. And, ultimately, he does actually fulfill that redemption arc. It's actually very touching. He goes from being a coward about the future to deciding that he would do anything to push the future forward, including fighting for Becky's child. Becky's child, by the way, is pretty dark so let's kind of skim over that. That's very Twilight Zone, like I mentioned. But the movie is fighting against its own conventions. The rock in the center is kind of problematic, despite its eeriness. Patrick Wilson's Ross is obsessed with people touching the rock. It warps their minds and makes them slaves to the tall grass. When the earth opens up and reveals the squirming corpses of those possessed by the rock, we have a bit of a Chekov's gun problem. One of the people have to touch the rock. We're told throughout the story that Tobin does it. By the nature of paradox, he's never really forced into touching the rock. But Tobin, ultimately a good character, is corrupted by the rock and tries leading other to said rock. But in the final timeline, Tobin never really is tempted by the rock. I suppose that Ross, in one of the timelines, forces Tobin to touch the rock, making him evil. But that's all off camera. If this is really a Chekhov's gun, we have to see one of the main characters touch it on screen. That's where the movie kind of falls apart. A) Someone has to touch the rock. B) Travis needs to make a sacrifice for his moral mistake. Travis touching the rock makes sense from a writing perspective. But he doesn't really have to face the full consequences of his actions.
The rock possesses good people. Tobin is proof of that. When Travis turns around to face the rock because the temptation is higher than ever before, it's really an odd choice. So much of the movie has Travis resisting the rock and all of the physical forces trying to get him to touch the rock are gone. He has this epiphany that the rock would help Tobin get out of the grass. But where does he come to that conclusion. It's odd that Travis is given clarity. It's this self-sacrificing moment that Travis needed to have, but it doesn't really make a lick of sense that he should be able to command such clarity after it happens. He should be part of that human root system or acting as a vessel for the rock, like Ross.
So I can see why people don't really dig this movie. I think it's fun. It does the job it needs to do. But at the end of the day, it's a fun streaming horror movie. It's got a production value that rocks. It gets more complicated than it really needs to, which is kind of fun for me. But it's also a little bit of a mess. If you go into it knowing that it is a bit of a mess, you might actually have a really good time. I had a good time, but I know that it probably isn't a great movie.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.