Stephen King is a master at taking innocuous, everyday objects and turning them into terrifying harbingers of existential dread: clowns, dogs, and even mist. In the Tall Grass, which premieres on Netflix Oct. 4, adds a new "harmless" entry to that list, turning an overgrown field of grass into a strange and surreal horror, bent on luring unsuspecting passers-by into its mysterious, labyrinthine depths. Judging by the trailers and the 2012 original novella written by King and his son, Joe Hill, In the Tall Grass is a fairly scary movie, but one that won't quite hit in the same way as, say, a thrill ride packed with jump scares.
In the Tall Grass follows Becky (Laysla De Oliveira) and Cal DeMuth (Avery Whitted), a brother and sister who are on a cross-country road trip. Their travels take them by a large, overgrown field, where they hear the cries of a little boy calling for help. Venturing into the grass to find him, the siblings soon become hopelessly lost, unable to escape the field themselves. What's causing it all? That's what the film unravels, though never explicitly explains.
The movie's trailer does well conveying a sense of isolation, as Becky and Cal are quickly separated when they journey deeper and deeper into the field. It also avoids spoiling any possible jump scare moments, instead focusing on the tension and hopelessness felt by the people trapped within this strange maze. There's also a fairly gross moment where a little boy, Tobin (Will Buie Jr.), tries to console Cal, distraught over not being able to find his sister. Tobin casually offers a dead creature to Cal, saying, "You can find things. But it's easier once they're dead."
Director Vincenzo Natali places the feature adaptation of the King and Hill novella firmly in the horror genre. refers to it as a horror movie. "Well to me, great horror is always a metaphor, and it's always touching on the human condition," he said in a red carpet interview with Flickering Myth. "And this story is very layered, it actually deals with a lot of things, but ultimately, this movie is a redemption story. It's about correcting a mistake."
Previously, Natali directed the cult sci-fi horror film, Cube (1997), which is similar to In the Tall Grass, in that it's set in a single environment, which also serves as the antagonist for the film's characters, who also face off against death traps in a strange place they can't escape. Despite its cult following, Cube received somewhat mixed reactions from critics, with a 63% on Rotten Tomatoes. Given the similar story beats and structure of the two films, it'll be interesting to see reactions to In the Tall Grass.
But how do you make grass menacing? Natali spoke with SYFY Wire about the film's environment, which is arguably the biggest source of tension. "We begin the movie much like Stephen King writes, where you feel like this is a real place with real people that we can relate to, and then we go down the river and it's going to get weirder and weirder and weirder, until by the end it's utterly psychedelic," the director said. "That was obviously part of the visual design and the fun of it."
Io9's review of the film — which took its very first bow at this year's Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas — touches on the weirdness as well. "In the Tall Grass doesn’t have many jump scares but the whole thing is built to be unsettling, which it excels at," Germain Lussier writes. This focus on disorientation and psychedelic imagery lends weight to the idea that, like many King stories, In the Tall Grass aims for cerebral scariness, as opposed to the run-of-the-mill, lizard-brain frights.