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  • Writer's pictureS.K. Chishty

Review: In the Tall Grass (2020)

Updated: Aug 10, 2020

Indistinct chanting.

It is widely believed that there are two kinds of fiction writers: Plotters and Pantsers.

Plotters, as the name suggests, cannot begin writing in earnest until they have everything plotted to the last detail, or at least, they have figured out their plot and characters.

Pantsers just pick up an incident, character, or even a sentence and begin to write without knowing where exactly their story is going. They follow their characters to the extent of even relying on them to reveal what the plot is.

I am a pantser.

A much more famous example is, of course, Stephen King.

I have not read the short story this film is based on but I can say with some confidence that this was King being his ‘pantserly best’. His son, a bestselling author himself, Joe Hill is also credited with the story. I am not sure what type of writer Hill is, but if this film is anything to go by he also trusts his characters to lead him to solutions. So, two pantsers on one short story.

All Stephen King tropes are prominently displayed here – from an evil artifact to possessed father hell-bent on destroying his family, to a kid in peril and yes, a maze.

The story is about two siblings Becky and Cal DeMuth (Laysla De Oliveira and Avery Whitted) who are traveling to San Diego and stop to help a little boy (Will Buie Jr.) calling out for help from a grassy field. Once they enter it the entire film is about their attempts to get out of there. Then there is another family also lost in there – for days, without food or water, though no one looks particularly hungry or thirsty ever.

I must talk about the other family here for a bit. The little boy the siblings go in to rescue is looking for his parents and seems to know a lot more than the others another typical trope of King's. (I won’t be surprised if there was a scene hinting at his abuse at some stage of this project’s development but - thankfully, if at all it was there was left out.)

And trust me, it is not a spoiler that Tobin's father Ross (Patrick Wilson) is a villain.

Look, when there is just one person in your cast who is famous, then it’s obvious they have an important role. That, and when they keep quoting marketing rules about selling (You know, how the whole country is about consumption but it’s the absolute worst thing in their films?)

He spends most of the film taking everyone repeatedly back to a rock jutting out of the earth wanting them to “just touch it”. Seriously. Here’s the proof that I assembled for you:

Serious question: where is Nicolas Cage when you need him?

Oh, if there is one more hint needed that Ross is evil, there is this moustache:

Pure effing evil from the word go, I tell you.

So yeah, the plot. Where were we?

Eventually (two months later) the girl’s boyfriend Travis (Harrison Gilbertson) comes looking for Becky and also ends up inside the hedge maze…sorry, tall grass. She is dead. But she is alive again. So are others who had died because now suddenly it’s some kind of a video-gamey time loop. It turns out that they can still save each other but the brother loves his sister “a little too much”, as the suddenly responsible boyfriend insightfully observes, then… well, there’s a cult or something. I mean, in the tall grass with a vengeance! These pantsers, I tell you!

I will also not be surprised if King reveals that he started writing this to literally illustrate his method. In fact, the title itself sounds like a metaphor a writer would use to show how stories sometimes begin. But at some point, Joe Hill joined in, pitched in some of his father’s favorite tricks, and they both went, “Why not?”.

Vincenzo Natali is the director of the groundbreaking “Cube” and the bizarre “Splice”. There are some beautiful shots of the grass but nothing else interesting. Even the cinematography is irritating in the 'too polished' Netflix fashion. Patrick Wilson seems to be having more fun playing the deranged salesman than we have watching him. The rest of the cast is competent and comes out unscathed.

The less said of the film's 'spiritual' viewpoint, the better. There are moments when Netflix subtitles describe the music in the background as "Indistinct chanting". That should have been the tagline.

Watched on Netflix.

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