Stephen King has a gift for crafting terrifying stories out of things that should otherwise not be scary. Whether it's fog, a classic car or clowns, he knows how to drill deep into our biggest fears and often manages to scare you in ways you didn't think you could be scared.
Originally written as a novella by King and his son, Joe Hill, this adaptation of "In the Tall Grass" comes from director Vincenzo Natali ("Cube") and takes the simple premise of getting lost in a field and runs with it. Literally.
It begins with a simple overhead shot looking down onto the lush grass, hypnotically blowing in the wind. The mystery below is palpable. After a foreboding title card in giant red letters, we meet Becky (Laysla De Oliveira) and Cal (Avery Whitted). They are siblings on their way to San Diego. At one point, Becky says that they should just turn around and head for home. At lot of misery could have been avoided if only they had heeded her instincts. But Becky is pregnant, and a wave of nausea in the car leads them to pull over suddenly so that she can throw up.
» Fantastic Fest: In ‘Color Out of Space,’ Nicolas Cage and a space rock are match made in hell
While stopped on the side of the road, they hear a child's voice from deep within the field of grass, calling to them for help. Almost instinctively, they go in to help. After all, his voice is loud and clear; they determine that he can't be far from. But that is just one of many tricks at play once you're inside the grass.
In the wrong hands, the premise could be too simple. The first thing that Natali does is ramp up the disorienting nature of the location by heavily and quite effectively using the surround sound channels. Voices swirl in all directions, making it nearly impossible to tell where characters are yelling from.
We do manage to find Tobin (Will Buie Jr.), whose cries for help led the siblings to step outside their car in the first place, and it isn't long before his father, Ross (played by Patrick Wilson), turns up as well. He tells Becky that he came into the field to look for his son and wife, who had both also wandered inside.
What exactly are the mysteries of the tall grass? Time and space are at play. One thing is clear — things here are almost never what they seem. It all adds up to a thrilling tale that maximizes its brief 90-minute running time. The closest recent parallel I can draw is between this and "A Quiet Place." Both movies prove that what we don't see (or hear) can conjure up an entirely different form of dread than you might expect.
After making its world premiere at Fantastic Fest on Friday night, the film will play again at 5 p.m. Monday before premiering on Netflix on Oct. 4.