In the Tall Grass (2019)

in-the-tall-grass-cover

 

Food: The best spot to spend a Saturday in the fall, if you want to be surrounded by people, Jenga, fireplaces and beer is Spritzenhaus in Brooklyn. With a large space, lined with one swirling bar and loads of long tables for congregating, it is ideal for bringing together big groups and a surprising number of families. My friend ordered and recommends the Duck Sausage (they have pretty much a menu of a bunch of sausages and you can get a pretzel). Everything else is alcohol.

Film: “In the Tall Grass” has an intriguing premise – getting lost in a field and not being able to find the road again – that without taking it any further is already grounds for extreme anxiety.┬áVincenzo Natali adapted a Stephen King and Joe Hill novel into this full-length film, starring Patrick Wilson, and a couple other lesser known actors, Laysla de Oliviera, Avery Whitted, Will Buie Jr. and Harrison Gilbertson.

The film opens with a brother sister duo, Becky and Cal (Oliviera and Whitted), road tripping to San Diego when pregnant Becky needs to pull over to vomit. While outside the car, the pair hears the cries of a young boy named Tomin (Buie Jr.) from within the thick fields next to the road. In attempt to help him, the two wander thoughtlessly into the grassland. They lose each other pretty quickly, and things start to feel warped. It feels impossible to find each other again, and as they call for each other, it becomes apparent that voices are coming from all directions as if the field itself is shape shifting.

It is instantly unsettling, as this lush labyrinth that is the titular tall grass seems to be swallowing people faster than quicksand, and further, seems to have a mind of its own. After following our initial characters through this leafy rabbit hole, we zoom out and follow a man, Travis (Gilbertson) driving his truck on the same route as previously, when he stops dead after recognizing Becky’s car parked in a church parking lot, surrounded by many others. It is caked with dirt and the burger sitting in the front seat is rotten and swarming with insects, indicating that much time has passed. Travis ends up seeking out Becky through the god-forsaken field, watching the sun and tying knots in the leaves to mark his path, however, to his horror, he finds that despite his diligence, the sun has moved, distorting not only his – and our – sense of direction and time.

Without getting too bogged down with the complicated aspects of plot that are shown in this piece, the film is conceptually interesting and fairly well portrayed. Some of the acting is mediocre, and the ever changing plot twists are difficult to grab onto, but it is not bad. Surprisingly, what this film is more than anything else, is boring. It feels all together much too long, and dragged out. The scenes are aggravatingly redundant, and nothing is really tied up in an overly clear way, however, the end is satisfying. That could also be because by the time the end approaches, you are just ready for the whole saga to be over.

I am not sure exactly how the book is written, but it is relatively short, and Natali had to develop notable changes to stretch it into a full-length film. In the novel, Travis is not an actionable character, he is merely talked about, whereas, the film developed him into one of the most important characters. It is difficult to imagine the movie without that aspect, because his involvement helps to paint the time-related distortion – him arriving after two months of the siblings being missing, allows us to understand the loop that the field has potentially created. The book, apparently, does not mention the time loop, but depicts that the field messes with time and space, moving people around and making it difficult to escape. The problem with introducing this time loop is that the film leaves it without explanation, resulting in unanswered questions, but effectively lands on a “happier” ending.

With a more concrete backbone, and embracing the length of the source material, this could have made a more compelling episode, in something like Black Mirror – by cutting it down by 50 minutes and honing in on everything up more tightly, losing the time loop, and ending it with more haunting ambiguity. Ultimately, it probably is worth reading instead of watching, because Natali’s “In the Tall Grass” falls short by being far too long.

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