‘In the Tall Grass’ Review: In the Heartland, a Field of Screams

Originally published in two parts in Esquire, the novella “In the Tall Grass,” by Stephen King and his son Joe Hill, turns the uniform expanse of rural Kansas into a field that stretches to the horizon in every direction. The field itself has a malevolent presence, like the sentient vines in Scott Smith’s novel “The Ruins,” but just the idea of getting trapped in a sea of green, with the sticky heat and the buzzing flies and the six-foot-tall cuts of grass, is suffocating enough for a short-form shocker.

King and Hill sustain the premise for Part 1 before surrendering to abstraction. In the Netflix adaptation, written and directed by Vincenzo Natali, that part lasts only 12 minutes of 102. The rest is a fevered mishmash of spiritual and supernatural nonsense that feels like a trap of another kind, a metaphysical zone defined by arbitrary laws and by characters who are constantly screaming each other’s names.

Natali wastes no time parking Cal (Avery Whitted) and his pregnant sister, Becky (Laysla De Oliveira), outside a field in Kansas, where they respond to the cries of a little boy who is lost in the grass. He seems close to the road, but the farther the siblings walk into the green, the farther they seem to get from him — and from each other.

As the situation grows more desperate, other figures emerge from the cut, including the boy’s father, played by Patrick Wilson, who tries a clear a pathway by devouring all the scenery he can. Natali whips up an atmospheric frenzy in kind, but every new addition is a subtraction. Two characters condemned to an eternal game of “Marco Polo” is scary enough on its own.

In the Tall Grass

Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 41 minutes.

In the Tall Grass

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