In the Tall Grass is a 2019 Canadian supernatural horror film and an adaptation of the novella of the same name by Stephen King and Joe Hill. The film was written and directed by Vincenzo Natali and premiered at Fantastic Fest on September 20th, 2019 before enjoying a wider release on Netflix on October 4th.
Siblings Becky and Cal Demuth travel to San Diego so a pregnant Becky can organize a way to give up her baby. While stopping outside an old church, the pair hear a young boy shout for help from a nearby field of tall grass. They enter in an attempt to rescue the child, but are quickly separated and soon discover there may be no way out...
This film contains examples of:
- Adaptation Expansion: It comes with the territory of expanding a (relatively) short novella into an hour and a half movie.
- Adaptational Heroism: Travis. He's mentioned fleetingly in the novella, as Becky's Frat Bro ex-boyfriend, who ditches her when he finds out she's pregnant. Here, he comes looking for Becky and Cal and manages to save them and Tobin.
- Adapted Out: The RV full of hippies who are lured into the tall grass by Tobin's cries never show up by virtue of the Adaptational Alternate Ending.
- Adaptational Alternate Ending: See Bittersweet Ending for details.
- Alien Geometries: The maze inside the tall grass is not bound by the laws of physics and can change constantly. This is visually demonstrated when Becky and Cal try to find each other by jumping up simultaneously. The first time, they're about ten yards apart. The second time, despite not having moved, it's suddenly a hundred yards.
- And Then John Was a Zombie: Travis touches the rock so he becomes one with the field. This allows him to send Tobin back in time to prevent the course of events that led to this, but he will have to remain in the grass.
- Bittersweet Ending: Travis leads Tobin out of the titular field and back to the past, where the boy is ultimately able to keep the past Becky and Cal from entering, breaking the loop. Becky decides to keep her baby, and the three end up driving back to Topeka to drop Tobin off at the police station. This comes at the cost of Travis dying in the field (although another Travis presumably still exists safe in his home due to time shenanigans), which is still ready to claim more victims when the time comes.
- Botanical Abomination: The grass field as a whole is implied to be some sort of incomprehensibly alien superorganism that has existed since the dawn of time. It actively messes with both time and space and wants to assimilate human travelers into itself. Also, at different points it manifests itself as humanoid monstrosities made of grass.
- BrotherSister Incest: Cal is accused of fetishizing this by Travis.Travis: And you're a real hero. Playing hubby to your little sister? It's the next best thing to fucking her, which is what you really want, isn't it?!
- The Corrupter: The rock in the center of the field. Though it shows victims how to get out, it also makes it so they never want to leave.
- Creepy Cathedral: There's an abandoned, dilapidated church opposite the grass maze called the Church of the Black Rock of the Redeemer. When Travis investigates, he finds a closed door at the back. It later turns out to be an exit portal from the maze, although one can only access it by becoming one with the black rock.
- Creepy Child: Tobin in the early versions of the time loop when Cal and Travis meet him; by this time, he's been completely broken by everything that's happened to him and has actually touched the rock, so he's almost on the same level of disturbing as Ross.
- Eldritch Location: The grass. There's seemingly no way out, it can manipulate time, and there's something very unpleasant going on beneath the rock at the center of the field.
- Exact Words: Ross is interestingly prone to it. It starts when he says that he found a way out of the field, but he didn't leave because he is still looking for his wife and son, and offers to show the way out. All technically true, the rock is the only way out, but only if you use it to help someone else, since it will make you unable to leave the field, and Ross wants to have them all trapped, never saying he would have left the field after finding his family. The other, weirder example is when he feeds Becky her baby telling her it's "grass and seeds", since the rock and whoever touches it considers grass and flesh to be the same thing.
- The Church of the Black Rock of the Redeemer presumably is not consecrated to 'Christ the Redeemer' but the redemption offered by the rock.
- Faux Affably Evil: Ross still keeps up his mild-mannered form of chit-chat, even as he's slaughtering people left and right.
- Hope Spot: Ross says he's found a way out of the grass and promises to lead Becky, Cal, Travis, and the rest of his family out. Then, he takes them to the rock and things go downhill from there.
- Humanoid Abomination:
- Ross is implied to have been transformed by the rock; not only can he navigate the field in spite of its space-warping properties, but he can crush a human skull with his bare hands and batter his way through the barricaded doors with relative ease. The same goes for Travis after he touches the rock; quite apart from the fact that the sequence shows grass growing inside his body, but he also manages to transport Tobin into the church so he can head Cal and Becky off at the field entrance.
- Also, those grass-faced things that capture Becky and deliver her to the rock; it's impossible to tell if they're long-term inhabitants of the field or something truly inhuman that were born beneath the rock.
- I Ate WHAT?!: Ross ends up tricking Becky into eating her own baby.
- Infant Immortality: Averted in one of the loops (see I Ate WHAT?! for details), but then played straight at the end when Tobin breaks the loop.
- It Can Think: When he first enters the grass maze, Travis tries to leave a trail of breadcrumbs to find his way back by tying pieces of long grass into knots. As soon as he's out of sight, the grass undoes the knot.
- Mobile Maze: The grass maze is constantly changing itself to frustrate travelers. Not just through space, but through time as well.
- Non Sequitur Environment: Tobin is transported in a jump cut from the depths of the field to a spooky-looking room as a result of Travis using the power of the Rock at the center of the field to teleport him out. To his immense relief, Tobin soon discovers he's actually in the Creepy Cathedral across the road from the field - before Cal and Becky entered it - allowing him an opportunity to save them both.
- Stable Time Loop: What all the characters are trapped in. Becky and Cal entered the maze because of Tobin's cries for help, then several months later Travis entered the maze to find them, then stumbled onto Tobin and his family when they entered the maze. At the end, Travis sends Tobin back in time to break the loop by preventing Becky and Cal from entering in the first place.
- Tuneless Song of Madness: Ross merrily belts out "Midnight Special" while stalking Becky and the others into the abandoned bowling alley.
- Year Inside, Hour Outside: From Becky and Tobin's perspective, they've been wandering the grass for two days. From Travis' perspective, it's been closer to two months. Although, considering that the field moves people through time and we already saw him go back and lure Tobin's family in, he might actually have gone back to that day.
- Wham Line:
Ross: I know! I know. You're thinking, "If you'd just turned left instead of right, you could've gotten away from me." But you did go left. And you turned right. And you kept running, and didn't turn at all. In here, in the garden of forking paths, you didn't make any one choice. You made every choice. And they all lead back to me.''
- A brief little diatribe from Ross right before the second Wham Shot listed below reveals exactly how the film departs from the source material.
Becky: It tastes like...
- After Becky finishes eating the "grass", she has a revelation.
Cal: Like what?
[Becky looks over and sees the mutilated carcass of her newborn.]
Cal: [speaking with Ross' voice] Like...
[Becky looks over and gasps]
- Wham Shot:
- Becky has a sudden vision of Ross standing in the middle of the field, his arms outstretched and his eyes completely covered with grass. Just to drive the point home, it's also punctuated with flashes of the grass-faced people.
- Cal sees his own dead body lying in the grass. Then, as Ross slowly throttles him to death, we pan out to reveal another dead Cal across from that... and another, much more decayed version of that... and a skeleton across from that...
- Your Head Asplode: What Ross ends up doing to Natalie. In front of their son, no less.
The novella contains examples of:
- Downer Ending: Unlike the much happier ending to the film, Cal and Becky are both trapped in the tall grass, with Tobin and Ross, forever, and whatever happens to them is left ambiguous.
- Here We Go Again!: A group of hippies camp out near the grass and are lured in by Tobin's voice.
- Nothing Is Scarier: Nothing about the grass is learned for sure; the only thing that's definite is that it moves people around. Cal speculates that the people in the surrounding houses sacrifice people to the tall grass, but this is never confirmed.