In King’s newest adaptation released by Netflix, he answers a question that we’ve all asked at some point or another while sitting in the backseat of a car rolling through the de-populated Midwest. Why are those fields of grass that never seem to end so unsettling Alright, maybe this isn’t a question that everybody has asked themselves, but still. It really does seem like the grass just goes on forever, and in Stephen King and his son, Joe Hill’s new film In the Tall Grass, it actually does, if you’re not careful.
The story begins with siblings Cal and Becky going on a road trip. They pull over on a stretch of highway that looks like it was plucked straight out of Children of the Corn so Becky can vomit. She’s six-months pregnant, and the two are on their way to San Francisco when they hear a boy calling for help in a field of tall grass. They attempt to find him, only to become hopelessly lost in the field themselves.
They figure out quickly that this is no ordinary grass. In one scene, Becky and Cal jump up and raise their arms so they can see each other. When they jump the first time, the two can’t be more than a couple of feet away. When they jump a second, Cal has inexplicably moved so far that it is difficult to see him.
Eventually, they meet up with three others – a husband, wife and kid trio who have presumably been in the tall grass for some time. The kid, Tobin, is a bit creepy, but then again, who wouldn’t be for someone whose been lost in a field for such a long time? And he urges Cal to touch an enormous rock that sits smack-dab in the middle of a clearing in the grass.
Around twenty minutes in, a new challenger to the tall grass approaches. Becky’s baby-daddy, Travis, looking for the two. He sees Beck’s misplaced novel and gets lost in the tall grass. At this point I’m thinking “is this just going to be a film about people that keep entering a field of grass and starving to death?”. But he meets up with unsettling child Tobin who promises to help him find Becky, only to lead him to her dead body.
Travis, wandering around aimlessly after the death of Becky, hears people clamoring outside the field, and unthinkingly begs for help, only to realize that it’s Tobin and his family. However, it’s his family before they entered the tall grass. The cries of Travis lead them to the field. They get lost, and it cuts back to Becky and Cal hearing Tobin’s screams, as they enter the field to find him. The cars in the church parking lot start piling up, and we learn that to enter the grass is to get stuck in some sort of weird time loop. At one point, Becky gets a phone call from her future self. When Tobin and Travis meet up again, Tobin no longer recognizes him.
The four regroup at the body of Tobin’s dead dog, murdered by an unknown assailant after Travis reveals that ‘the field cannot move dead things’. Cal and Becky are rightfully pissed off at Travis, thinking that he was following them the whole trip. But Travis reveals that he only went looking for the siblings two months after they failed to show up in San Francisco.
Patrick Wilson, known as Ross, shows up and claims that he has the ‘golden ticket’. A way out of the grass after their leads run dry. Ross reveals that before becoming a real estate agent, he was in a Gospel band, and a devout follower of the Lord, which means he can only be revealed as some kind of religious zealot. Steven King rarely deviates from his tropes once he has established them, and that’s exactly what happens. Ross claims that the weird rock in the middle of the field has brought them together for a reason, and the reason for the season is worship.
After they refuse to lay hands on the rock, Ross assails the survivors, killing his wife by squishing her head like a ripe tomato. The group runs out into the field to get away from him. Freddy, Tobin’s golden retriever, leads them into an abandoned building. Cal and Travis exchange heated words. Eventually, Cal lets Travis fall off the roof of a building. He gives Becky an inappropriate declaration of his love that literally could not have been read in a way that wasn’t romantic. Disgusted, she runs into the fields. Cal is apprehended by the crazed Ross. He screams as he sees numerous copies of his own body in the area, implying that Ross has killed him many times over.
A sickly Becky reveals to Travis that she was going to San Diego to give her baby to a family. They seek each other out, but Becky is captured by Ross and stabs him. Becky becomes disoriented in the grass and finds herself at the rock. The traumatic events induce early labor, where, with Becky in a half fugue state, Becky gives birth. Ross comes by and presumably begins feeding pieces of her own child to her.
Travis survives his fall from the building, and the two have a final showdown. Travis beats Ross’ brains out against the rock. He realizes that the cycle will continue on and on unless he stops it. Travis makes the ultimate sacrifice and becomes a follower of the rock by touching it, meaning he can never leave the field. He leads Tobin out. Tobin wanders back through the church. Cal and Becky are outside the field once more, walking in the grass after they hear his cries for help. Tobin barely manages to stop them from perpetuating the cycle by showing Becky’s necklace given to him by Travis. He narrowly avoids another time loop. The siblings head back to take Tobin to a police station. Becky decides to keep the baby.
The final shot shows Travis staring at the swaying stalks of grass. Resigned to his fate, he lays down and dies.
It’s typical Stephen King madness with tropes that I haven’t seen him do in a while now. The setting is a nondescript, weird little town in the South. There’s a psychic kid that forwards the plot. We have the typical religious zealot that tries to kill our main characters in order to get them to convert or repent. And the cherry on top? A weird smattering of incest that they really didn’t need to include.
Overall, this wasn’t one of King’s more terrible adaptations. But I’m not saying I’d put it on the same level as Andrés Muschietti’s IT. There’s only so much you can do with a story set in grass. I think they did a fine job with what little they had to work with. It’s tense in parts, the characters aren’t outright unlikeable and it’s got a neat plot I wasn’t expecting. The idea that the rock requires worshippers and lures people in the field so they become disoriented and weak to swear fealty to it was not what I was expecting. The time-loop was a neat thing to work in. I wasn’t immediately sold with Patrick Wilson’s performance as a corn-follower, but he grew on me.
While a fun watch, there were a couple of things I found frustrating, including everyone’s obsession with Becky. Ross’ attempts to rape her, and that nasty incestuous thing they tried to work into the plot. I understand the reasoning a bit. Trying to ramp up the drama so the characters would be more likely to turn on each other. But it felt like it came out of nowhere. Even in the scene where Cal lets Travis fall to his death. In the moments preceding it, the two seemed to be cooperating in light of their dire circumstances. Even though Cal thought Travis was a deadbeat, he knew that his sister loved him. It was highly unlikely that he would’ve done anything to Travis to jeopardize his relationship with Becky.
They try to play it off as ‘oh, the grass made him do it’. And add creepy whispering and shots of the stalks swaying as Cal decides to let Travis’ hand go. But that doesn’t come up anywhere else in the film unless someone touches the rock.
I actually liked Cal as a character, better than Becky or her deadbeat baby dad. As a big sibling, if someone did my sister so dirty like that I wouldn’t trust him either. It was a shame they framed him as a sister-fucker. But let the guy who left his kid and girlfriend get redemption. I have to keep in mind that this is a Steven King adaptation, and my standards should be as low as possible.
But this was a good watch. It was worth the hour and forty-four-minute runtime, and we all learned a valuable lesson at the end. If you hear a child calling for help in a field, just drive off. Let the local authorities take care of it, lest you end up in a time-loop!