(2019) Horror (Netflix) Patrick Wilson, Harrison Gilbertson, Will Buie, Jr., Laysla De Olveira, Avery Whitted, Rachel Wilson, Tiffany Helm. Directed by Vincenzo Natali
In the endless prairie, the grass can grow higher than, as the song goes, an elephant’s eye. There is something idyllic about tall waving grass on a sweet summer day. The tall grass can hide all manner of things, whether it be children playing hide and seek, couples coupling or something far more sinister.
From Stephen King and his chip-off-the-old-block-of-radioactive-meteorite-that-turns-people-into-killer-mutants son Joe Hill comes hits made-for-Netflix terror opus (which kicked off four straight weeks of original horror movies released each Friday in October). Siblings Cal (Whitted) and his very pregnant sister Becky (De Olveira) pull over to the side of a country road on the way to California (why don’t people ever stick to the interstate in horror movies?) so that she can wrestle with a bout of morning sickness. That’s when they hear a child’s voice calling for help. He can communicate with them, moaning that he’s been lost in the grass for days. Against their better judgment, the two siblings go in – and promptly get lost themselves.
While there they run into Tobin (Buie), the lost kid and eventually his parents the high-strung Ross (P. Wilson) and Natalie (R. Wilson). They also eventually run into Travis (Gilbertson), Becky’s baby daddy whom Cal absolutely loathes and who followed them when they missed a meeting with the prospective adoptive parents of her unborn child. As it turns out, time doesn’t work the same way in the tall grass. And it shifts in physical space as well. Except, as Tobin notes, “it doesn’t move dead things” and soon enough, there are plenty of those about as well.
From simple concepts comes better horror; King has understood this throughout his amazing career and the concept here is fairly simple, although the “rules” of the tall grass tend to get a bit obfuscated the longer the film goes. The first third of the movie however is deliciously creepy and veteran horror director Natali (Cube, Splice) keeps the suspense taut until near the end where things fall apart a bit.
There is some nifty CGI grass effects and less-nifty CGI blood effects and at the center of it all is a stone monolith – isn’t that always the case – that is a MacGuffin that never gets fully explained but then again doesn’t really need it. The film might have benefitted by less connection to the main characters – a sense that this thing has been there a really long time doesn’t really exist, and maybe evidence of pioneers and Native Americans who also found themselves wandering endlessly in the tall grass might have given the film a bit more grounding. However, this is a solid if unspectacular adaptation of the Master’s material and certainly a worthy addition to anyone’s spooky playlist whether at Halloween or just in the mood for a little fear fare.
REASONS TO SEE: Reasonably suspenseful throughout. Some pretty cool CGI grass effects.
REASONS TO AVOID: Loses steam about half way through the movie.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of profanity, disturbing images, situations of terror and some brief sexual violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While Patrick and Rachel Wilson, who play husband and wife in the film, have the same last name although they are not related.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/18/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 38% positive reviews: Metacritic: 46/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Children of the Corn
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Rabid (2019)