So how great is it to be a Stephen King fan right now? We’ve been given a plethora of adaptations and there’s a ton coming. A new miniseries adaptation of The Stand, the first adaptation of The Long Walk, and we’re even getting Doctor Sleep next month. I’ve been digging this but not all of the films have been great. I had issues with It: Chapter 2 and even more with the interesting misfire of Pet Sematary. Now we’re starting to run out of larger works to adapt and they’re starting to delve into some obscure side stuff. In 2012 Stephen King did a novella with one of my favorite writers, Joe Hill, who is also his son. It was a little story about Kansas called In the Tall Grass, and each creepy moment of it filled me with a strange glee (except that one moment…that was horrifying). This year we got an adaptation from Vincenzo Natali, a Canadian director that did other films such as Splice and Cube. I enjoy both of those and got pretty excited about this. It’s one of my favorite stories from both King and Hill, so I mean…of course I was excited.
In the Tall Grass tells the story of Becky and Cal Demuth as they travel across the country. They’re brother and sister, but there’s a bit of a strange closeness to them. I mean it’s not completely Lannistery, but you get the vibe that one of the siblings might be dealing with something adjacent to that. Becky is pregnant and she’s giving the baby to a family in San Diego. The siblings are crossing the country, weaving around to different obscure landmarks, and working their way to the destination. Becky’s left her boyfriend, Travis, and she’s fully ready to cut ties to him and be done with the whole situation.
While driving through Kansas they pull by a church, the sign out front reading “The Church of the Black Rock of the Redeemer.” That’s ominous, but this is also rural Midwestern America and there’s weirder shit out here so it plays. What doesn’t, though, is the terrified child they hear calling for help from the tall grass. Becky needed to throw up while pulled over they hear the child. This tugs at their heartstrings and they enter the grass to find him. What they discover is that in this grass there is no sense of true physical or geographical spacing. It’s the first true sign of what we’re going to walk through with these two, as well as four other individuals.
Right off the bat, let’s talk about the visuals. I’m a big fan of the way things like grass or water look on film, particularly in high-definition. It’s a weird bit of nature porn that I’ve become fascinated with, and Natali gives me everything I want from that. This grass is vibrantly green, luscious and swaying in the breeze but somehow able to stay stable when it’s pissed off. All these stunning organic images go wildly well with a deep, saturated blood-red that is dropped throughout to specify several things, from death to life, and to place a deep sense of unsettled fever in a viewer. I’m here waxing poetic while you should be experiencing it. Natali really did something absolutely beautiful with the imagery but fair warning, for those uncomfortable with violence you need to know that the imagery is horrific as well as gorgeous.
And let’s talk about that violence because…hurk…some of it actually made me sick. I’m used to everything from light violence that is highly disturbing thematically to cartoonishly over-the-top violence that exists just to look awesome. This has some of both, but there is one genuinely disturbing moment that I found on the edge of too much. A similar scene existed in the book but here they’ve taken the idea behind it and made everything so much worse. I was already in an emotionally weak state due to personal circumstances, but then this happened and I kind of lost my mind a bit. It’s awful, direct, targeted, and effective. Most that wouldn’t be able to handle it would have tapped out by now, but it’s not going to be easy for anyone.
My main issue with the film is that the characters are difficult to connect with because no one is fleshed out. There’s not really a bad performance, but I have issues caring about any of these people. There are six of them overall, and I think I cared about one more than the others – Patrick Wilson’s Ross Humbolt. The guy is putting in work here, using his natural charm subversively to make a bit of a trick-shot character. You’re going to love it, and I’m not saying one more word about him.
End of the day this is a mixed bag. I don’t think it’s bad, but it also isn’t something I can recommend to anyone outside of fans of King. It’s not indecipherable, but it’s mean and unpleasant in a way that almost no one else would connect with. Give it a shot if you’re feeling like trying it, but for me this was still only a gentleman’s six out of ten.