FantasticFest 2019 Movies: In The Tall Grass

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15310
Netflix

Vincenzo Natali (Director)
Harrison Gilbertson (Actor)
Laysla De Oliveira (Actor)

In The Tall Grass begins with a hauntingly familiar Stephen King premise – you’re cruising through the middle of the nation, problems behind you and solutions ahead, and you stumble upon something weird… You take a few steps too close, and you’re in it. Lost and scared, with every footstep you take making everything a little bit worse.Becky and her brother Cal are leaving a bad situation and heading toward an uncertain one. They stop to allow Becky to relieve her car sickness, which might be due to the fact that she’s six months pregnant. The father is part of the situation in the rearview, and that’s all we know for now. While stopped, they hear a boys voice in the titular grass that runs to the horizon to either side of the road. A church sits idle across the way. They park the car and go to help the lost kid. I wish I could say hilarity ensues, but with a pedigree of King, Joe Hill, and Vincenzo Natali, I think you know any laughs from here on are more of a panic response to fear. Becky, Cal, and all the others who appear in the grass are genuinely lost, both in a spiritual and a physical sense.

The set was real – the field of (serrated) grass blades giving Natali and crew a narrow window in which to shoot. In our interview, Natali spoke of the care that had to be taken to not destroy the set as they shot. The living ecosystem of the set provided real scares to actors and crew alone at their marks, and the sensation of being trapped in an open space comes through for the viewer. The film is, thematically, a story about regret, and consequence, but it also touches on what absolution might cost, and the choice of losing yourself in a larger power. Body autonomy, whether force cheapens faith, and the cost of happiness all feature strongly as each character makes their own arc within the larger problem of the grass.

I’m a sucker for that old-school Children of the Corn scare, where characters have simply
wandered into something too large, too old, and too terrifying to defeat. King, and more recently Joe Hill, are names I’ve come to trust in that category. That trust is paid off here with Natali’s weird, tense, and moving feature.