And it fits right into the Stephen King adaptation explosion.
We should all rejoice whenever Patrick Wilson is cast in anything, but especially so when horror filmmakers decide that he’s the right guy for the job. Personally, I can’t completely shake the impression that Wilson left in one of his first cinematic appearances – as the yearning goody-goody Raoul in Joel Schumacher’s 2004 adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera. However, Wilson has definitely fostered a steady reputation for himself as the ideal leading man in scary movies since.
James Wan saw something in Wilson’s utmost sincerity and put that quality to work when crafting some stellar horror offerings. I can’t imagine anyone other than Wilson in Insidious or The Conjuring. Now, he gets to sink his teeth into an adaptation with Stephen King‘s name on it, and this already seems like a match made in movie heaven.
Deadline has revealed that Wilson will headline Netflix’s In the Tall Grass alongside relative unknowns Laysla De Oliveira (iZombie) and Harrison Gilbertson (Need for Speed). Vincenzo Natali — best known for helming the bizarre sci-fi horror movie Splice as well as episodes of Hannibal and Westworld — has scripted the film and is set to direct.
No doubt the King IP explosion of the past year has fast-tracked In the Tall Grass into production. The film has actually been in the works for several years, with Natali remaining attached to the project from its early stages in 2015. In the Tall Grass then stalled until Netflix picked it up in May 2018, initially casting James Marsden to star. However, scheduling conflicts have since led to Marsden’s departure and Wilson’s hiring.
In the Tall Grass will be based on a novella of the same name co-penned by King and his son Joe Hill, who is best known for horror works of his own such as “Locke & Key” and “NOS4A2” (both of which will head to the small screen at some point in the future, too). Although this is not the duo’s first and only literary collaboration, each of their individual knacks for the most perturbing of stories combines to serve them exceptionally well for the gore of “In the Tall Grass.” The narrative takes simple tropes and settings, and transposes them into a sucker punch of a nightmarish experience.
The facts of In the Tall Grass are these: Cal and Becky Demuth are inseparable siblings traveling across the country on spring break. While at a rest stop somewhere in rural Kansas, they hear a little boy calling out from beyond the tall grass off the road. Cal and Becky decide to enter the vast field in search of him. However, they are quickly separated from one another and easily get lost in the intimidating landscape. Eventually, both brother and sister realize that evil lurks among them between the towering blades and escape is futile.
If that doesn’t already inspire feelings of disturbed paranoia, I don’t know what will. In the Tall Grass is comparable to any King-esque horror story that utilizes inherently creepy imagery in the most primal sense of the word, but it escalates unnervingly quickly.
Cal and Becky enter a danger zone in the throes of nature. As if their suffocating surroundings weren’t enough, the pair is tormented by something totally inexplicable. The feeling of dread is profoundly depicted in the novella, and readers will also have to be on the lookout for some deeply unsettling set pieces that unfurl as the story progresses.
Considering the internalized nature of “In the Tall Grass,” I’m also left wondering how the novella would translate onscreen as a feature film. This isn’t the busiest of narratives story-wise. Rather, the plot derives most of its scares from psychologically taxing elements.
That said, both of the King adaptations released by Netflix have been absolute hits thus far. 1922, which is actually based on a novella, too, turned out to be a highly tense Gothic horror picture. As per usual, the scariest King motifs are the most ambiguous ones that are deeply rooted in characters’ psyches as they are made to reckon with their own consciences.
Meanwhile, Gerald’s Game is a phenomenal character study that unravels its protagonist to her core in order for her to attain agency. So much of the film’s drama is confined to the setting of a single bedroom, and yet the movie manages to frighten audiences in uncannily basal ways. Furthermore, Carla Gugino delivers a career-best performance as the lead in Gerald’s Game, turning in an anguished depiction that we can believe in and root for.
Those movies set a reassuring precedent for In the Tall Grass to follow; these smaller King offerings don’t need to be bombastic like the Pennywise of last year’s IT: Chapter One. Rather, honing in on precise character work and deeply rooted suspense is the way to go.
Deadline doesn’t offer any character details in its report of In the Tall Grass. Still, De Oliveira and Gilbertson are likely playing Becky and Cal, respectively. These roles are actually perfect for young actors looking to shape a reasonable repertoire given the demanding nature of the source material. Who knows? We could have a new scream queen and king on our hands.
Meanwhile, established scream king Wilson could portray a stranger named Ross, whose appearance in the novella is disquieting, to say the least. Without spoiling the premise further, the character will be very different from the mainstream horror offerings we’ve seen from the actor. He’s not going to be a well-meaning father as in Insidious, nor will be portraying one half of the sweetest ghost-busting duo as he does in The Conjuring.
Instead, In the Tall Grass presents Wilson the prime chance to go eerie in the worst way. He sort of did that in one of his earliest films, Hard Candy, which showcased his ability to be a slimy smooth-talker with the most abhorrent of intentions. To see that skill morph into the creepiness that Ross exudes will be a fascinating treat.
In spite of all the projects popping up in the neverending tangle of King-related adaptations these days, In the Tall Grass already stands out due to the potential of its cast as well as its utterly daring story. We probably won’t look at grass the same way again once this picture hits Netflix.