When I first heard they were making a movie about this, I wondered how a 90 minute horror film about a grass field would be scary, let alone interesting. I had the luck of getting the extended edition, which meant they had 101 minutes to fill. So, how did they make grass interesting for that long? The short answer is, they didn’t.
For those who don’t know, In The Tall Grass is a novella by Stephen King and his son, Joe Hill. It was originally published in two parts in Esquire magazine. Whilst I haven’t read it, this seems like the perfect medium for this story and from what I’ve read, the novella was well received. I will add it to my list of books to read!
And, for those of you who don’t know, I’m a huge Stephen King Stan. Both his books and his movies, however poor they may be. I usually find a certain charm and usually get at least some entertainment from them. I suppose that was technically true of this, but my entertainment did not last for long…you could say it got lost in the fields. Spoilers lie ahead.
Becky and Cal are brother and sister, but initially it seems they are a couple. Becky is pregnant and Cal is a nerd. They are halfway to San Diego when they stop, right next to a massive field of grass. Becky needs to puke, likely due to the smell of the disgusting pickles that are ruining Cal’s burger. He doesn’t seem phased. Either from the pickles or the vomit. They hear someone calling for help from within the field and foolishly they enter the field to help.
The voice they heard belongs to Tobin, a little boy who got lost in the field when he followed his dog, Freddy in. His parents, Ross and Natalie, followed him in as well. This lead to my favourite part of the film, in which we see Ross wandering aimlessly around the field, looking for Natalie and Tobin. He is complaining about children and their inability/unwillingness to listen to their parents. I feel you, Ross. He also complains about his wife and her failure to do her job as a mother. My wife and mother of my child usually reads my articles, so I will say no more on the topic.
Finally, to complete our little ensemble, Travis enters the fray. He is the father of Becky’s child to be and a deadbeat rockstar. Tobin enters the field at the same time as Becky and Cal, even though he wasn’t there when they first entered the field. This would imply some sort of time loop. This is confirmed throughout the film when some characters are dead and then later seen alive. Ugh. I hate stories that mess with time. Back to the Future and Doctor Who are a couple of notable exceptions. Army of Darkness as well, although the time change in that is minimal.
We come to learn that the grass is constantly shifting about. Whenever they are talking to one another, the sound of their voices are always shifting. Sometimes it sounds like they are close and other times like they are really far away, even if they haven’t moved at all. The one exception to the rule are any dead corpses, animal or human. The field doesn’t move dead things. Using this knowledge, Tobin, Travis, Becky and Cal managed to meet up, around the corpse of the dead dog, Freddy.
They are travelling towards a building they can see in the distance and they receive a phone call that is obviously from Becky. None of them seem to make that connection though, even though it is clearly her voice. In their defense, I guess they aren’t used to the rules of time that the field goes by and weren’t expecting one of the group to call them. Oh and Becky falls behind and then gets raped by the grass? It seemingly enters her uterus and causes some bleeding. She then passes out.
Becky is revived by Ross, whom she met earlier but got separated from. It would appear that Becky is unable to follow the simplest of instructions, like “don’t lose sight of the group”. Ross reunites Becky with Tobin and leads them to an enormous rock in the field’s centre. Ross is clearly quite taken with the rock and wants everyone else to touch it.
Enter Natalie. She warns everyone to stay away from the rock. It would seem when Ross touched the rock he was filled with some sort of evil entity and is now doomed to spend eternity in the field. Travis attacks Ross and sacrifices himself in order to buy enough time for everyone to escape. Instead, everyone just watches him get his ass beat and he gets his arm broken in vain. I think his shoulder was dislocated as well. Ross then crushes Natalies head in his bare hands. Sometimes my partner annoys me too, but damn.
That was apparently the wake up call the rest of the gang needed to finally bail. They make their way to a bowling alley, that is in the field. I guess on Friday nights the damned souls go and do a bit of bowling. I bet Ross is a good bowler. Anyway, after some bickering between Cal and Travis, we learn that the field has some “holes” in it, which can be used to escape. Freddy the dog makes his exit and abandons the humans to their fate. So much for man’s best friend. Oh and it’s revealed that Cal is in love with his sister and he pushes Travis off of the roof. Then Ross strangles Cal, but not before kindly explaining the rules of the time loop.
Ross makes his way over to Becky and says he wants to sleep with her on the rock. I’m sure Natalie doesn’t appreciate this, but it’ll make for a good session in couples therapy. Becky stabs Ross in the eye with a key and she is then carried away by the grass, all the way to the rock. The rock has prophetic drawings on it, one of which depicts the pregnancy. This is when Becky makes the call to herself in the past/present/future. Damn time loop. She warns herself not to let Cal hurt Travis or the loop will never end.
This is when it gets weird. The ground opens up and reveals a bunch of damned souls, all reaching up to her. She passes out and wakes up to find she gave birth. Cal has the baby and Becky passes out again. When she wakes up next, Cal is feeding her the baby and telling her it is just grass, which she seems to believe?
Anyway, I think Becky (and us) are supposed to connect that Cal and Ross are the same person, even though they aren’t? Tobin goes to Travis for help. Ross forces Tobin to touch the rock. Becky takes his other eye and dies. Travis kills Ross and then decides that he will touch the rock.
I guess this was his way of atoning for his past and for being a dick to Becky. He is aware that if he touches the rock, he can never leave the field, but it is the only way that he can learn the way out. He uses his knowledge to help Tobin escape and sends Tobin to prevent Becky and Cal from ever entering the field in the first place, thus closing the loop. Travis dies in the field and I assume Ross and Natalie are also dead and in the field for all eternity. The End.
Boy, that really fell apart and got wild. As I said, this was based on a novella, which seems to be the perfect medium for this story. I enjoyed the first 20-30 minutes of this film. It was intriguing and interesting. I was curious about the field and its origins. I was eager to learn more. That’s exactly where it should have left me. This would be the perfect story for an anthology film.
Instead, they harped on for another 70 something minutes and killed any bit of interest I had in the plot. By the end of it, I was so bored and frustrated, I just wanted to go to sleep. Even the ever handsome, Patrick Wilson couldn’t save this one. He did have a nice mo’ for this movie. Apparently James Marsden was originally cast for the lead role, but was replaced by Wilson due to scheduling conflicts. Marsden is more handsome, but I don’t think he could have saved it either.
My advice is to watch it up until Ross starts to complain about his family. Then do yourself a favour and leave when the story is still intriguing. If you stick around until the credits, I imagine you will hate it.
P.S. I’m disappointed about my lack of gardening puns in this post. Sometimes, I’m ashamed of myself.