by The Movie Diorama - Is this helpful?
In The Tall Grass is overgrown with flimsy dialogue and a premise that needed landscaping. Stephen King seems to have an endless amount of material to adapt. So much so, that his son is mimicking the footsteps of his father by also writing horror-related fiction. When the two generations joined together to write a novella on a mysterious field, it should’ve harked back to King’s legacy as the legendary writer he once was. Sadly though, despite the faithfulness to the source material, it’s yet another King story unable to translate comprehensibly into a full-length feature. Two siblings, with one six months pregnant, stop outside an old church and venture into an endless field of tall grass when they hear a child yearning for help. This field however is enshrouded with a mysterious force that prevents anyone who enters from leaving, and so the two must survive the oddities of the tall grass before “something” or “someone” endangers them.
Massive ‘Triangle’ vibes from this story, except its conceptual complexities are less innovative and more mundane. Past, present and future selves are lurking within the swaying echoes of the tall grass, conveniently outlining the rules and boundaries of the field’s power. “The grass won’t move dead things” states an embattled young boy, whom had been lost for days. “The rock is the way out!”. Paradoxical in nature, this story had the capacity to be both atmospheric and tense, given the frustratingly claustrophobic environment. Alas, was not meant to be. Despite Wrobleski’s stunning cinematography that encapsulated the natural order of the field through stylised motion, particularly when visualising the field to be a living entity of its own, Natali’s one-dimensional screenplay forced certain characters actions and personalities to be questionably dull.
The extent of characterisation can only be surmised by the pitch at which they shout for each other. For example, Cal continually shouting “Becky? Becky? Becky with the good hair!?” is the maximum capacity at which we feel for his character. Becky then shouts for “Cal!”. Travis waltzes on in and shouts for “Becky?” and “Tobin!”. Ross is just shouting at himself about real estate. His wife is the most expendable individual with nearly zero lines (shouting included!). And the dog had more screen presence than the majority of characters. The dialogue felt inorganic, starkly contrasting the entire premise. Yes, the performances were all functional with what the actors were given, although Wilson as always goes above and beyond. But it’s not enough to carry a supernatural mystery that seeks to explain everything almost immediately. Unable to classify it as a horror, considering there was no legitimate threat/tension, although some eye-wincing gore was well-utilised.
The third act commences and the plot’s lunacy ramped up from confusion to diabolically non-sensical. Without spoiling it, stuff happens near a rock that resembled an incarnate of King’s worst tendencies in fictional writing. Unnecessary “creatures” are added into the mix, ironically adding nothing to the story. Then, as all films featuring time loops end, the characters miraculously close the loop before it even happened. So, what’s the point? Did they honestly learn anything from this ordeal to which they hadn’t actually experienced? Urgh.
It’s abundantly clear that Natali was unable to stretch King’s novella into a feature-length film, despite being a faithful adaptation. The technical excellence was dimmed by flimsy writing and limited characterisation that forced this supernatural mystery to be anything but mysterious. This is why we should all purchase a portable lawnmower, you never know when you’ll be stuck eternally in a field with a giant ancient rock in the middle...