Available on: Netflix
Starring: Patrick Wilson
Directed by: Vincenzo Natalie
I think Stephen King really hates mowing lawns. He has managed to find horror in the lawnmower itself in The Lawnmower Man (1992), King appeared as a half man / half grass monster in Creepshow (1982) and most recently has had Netflix adapt his novella In The Tall Grass (2019). While Sunday garden maintenance can unnerve even the most stoic, it is a unique mind which can envisage a cast of characters getting lost in tall grass to horrific ends. Still, after so many decades of writing horror fiction, not all ideas can be as inherently creepy as killer clowns lurking in sewers.
Having not read the novella and very quickly realising that the plot of the film indeed is contained within the title, my first question was how a 1 hour 48 feature film could be teased out of such a basic premise. The answer to this question quickly becomes less important than the question, why bother?
A number of Stephen King staples such as family man turned rapist, incestuous overtones and dead dogs pervade a concentric mess of a story while the backdrop of just about every scene is (unsurprisingly) grass. Supernatural elements are introduced to advance plot points without adherence to any kind of internal logic, omitting a basic tenet of horror which made films like the Director’s own cult classic, Cube (1997) such a success.
The fact that the film is so visually boring is surely only partially the fault of Director Vincenzo Natalie. Lets face it, he didn’t have much to work with from the screenplay. However, the complete lack of any tension is surely within his remit and not helped by the unceasing and unsubtle score.
The answer to the question “why bother” is the same as the answer to the question of why there are so many recent Stephen King adaptations. It’s the same as the answer to the question of why there are so many Tom Clancy adaptations, why there are so many Marvel and DC adaptations and why the concept of an “unfilmable” novel is now just a marketing tool. Dependability of an inbuilt audience has been a boon to risk-averse studios in the modern era and the bane of filmgoers who long for the lost age of mid-budget, original gems such as the aforementioned Cube. This dependability is in fact the seductive siren lure of mediocrity in opposition to which Netflix itself has been a beacon.