Netflix's In the Tall Grass Review
Netflix's latest mystery horror comes from Vincenzo "Cube" Natali, returning to maze-like misadventures this time courtesy of Stephen King, but a muddled plot and murky Dolby Vision don't do it any favours.As noted when covering the Stephen King multiverse TV show, Castle Rock, the scarily prolific author is clearly the flavour of the moment - on both the Big and Small Screen. After decades of average adaptations (Pet Sematary, Dreamcatcher, The Dark Tower, 1408) and despite only a clutch of masterpieces (The Shining, Misery, It, Stand By Me, The Green Mile, Carrie), recent Box Office success has meant that basically anything he has ever touched is up for grabs as we careen towards a landmark 100 adaptations from the author.
Netflix itself has even invested in a couple of King stories, and to decent enough effect, with 1922 proving a welcome Thomas Jane-centric affair, and Carla Cugino making the one-woman-show of Gerald's Game work quite well really. So there shouldn't be much surprise that the streaming service has offered up another adaptation from the horror maestro, this time digging deep with a co-written King short story, seeking to turn the limited-scale premise into a full-length affair.
Netflix digs deep with a co-written King short story, seeking to turn the limited-scale premise into a full-length affairWhen a pregnant sister and her doting brother, travelling across America to deliver the baby, stop by a field of very tall grass they hear a boy crying out for help and venture in to investigate. It's not long before they find themselves separated from one another and utterly lost, unable to find the boy, each other, or any kind of way out. And when night draws, things get even weirder, adding more mysterious people to this seemingly endless, somewhat otherworldly field, and piling the bodies up to cement the horror of the situation they are in.
Natali is back in pure Cube territory here (a story served quite well on the Big Screen in the first Maze Runner film) and it's an initially welcome return, spinning up a mystery involving children and pregnant women to further heighten the ordeal, and keeping you guessing as to what on earth is going on.
There's Cube and indeed the non-Natali sequel Cube: Hypercube influences here, as the field appears to mess with perceptions of location, time and reality itself - the sun shifts its path overhead, fellow people trapped in the maze shout out from the right then all of a sudden from the left, and bodies appear rotten and hollowed out despite being but a few hours dead. What on earth is going on?
Unfortunately, an initially intriguing premise gets drawn out unnaturally to really quite a protracted affair (it's actually only about 90 minutes without credits, but an hour in it feels more than ready to end) which goes way beyond the creepy open-ended finale to the short story, and which could have easily ended with a suitably horrifying full-circle coda showing another couple driving past and hearing the same kid crying out for help, but instead trying to provide an explanation that was never really there in the first place.
Unfortunately, an initially intriguing premise gets drawn out unnaturally, trying to provide an explanation that was never really there in the first place
It doesn't help that Dolby Vision 4K (with effective Dolby Atmos too for those that can) largely ruins any enjoyment of the night sequences which are so utterly, impenetrably dark that you can barely fathom what on earth is going on. Netflix had hints of similar problems with the aptly titled Hold the Dark, but In the Tall Grass spends an unbearably long time in the pitch black, barely even bothering with a little moonlight to shine a light on pivotal moments. Dolby Vision does such a stunning job during the daylight sequences - the lush green grass is vibrant and palpably alive, and the cinematography does a fabulous job to provide welcome material for the 4K enhancement - but every time the sun sets (and we fast forward a lot to night scenes), it gets frustratingly murky, pulling you out of the moment when you should be getting drawn back in.
There are some nice ideas in In the Tall Grass, and you want to unlock the mysteries to this creepy field of madness, with Natali clearly in his element. But the script simply doesn't know how to tie things up, playing out the narrative in an increasingly contrived and ultimately meaningless fashion. A suitably over-the-top performance from Patrick Wilson (Aquaman), and a bunch of game newcomers make it an enjoyable enough affair, but the weak twists and turns don't do it any favours over the duration, outstaying its welcome as it seeks to make something out of nothing with a short story that should have stayed just that: short.
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