Stephen King never really goes out of style in the film industry, he waxes and wanes like the moon, his work is prolific, and readily adapted for film, although it can be a little variable in quality. Certainly with IT Chapter 2 forefront in everyone’s mind, now is definitely the time to adapt some of his lesser known work, and here we have In The Tall Grass popping up on Netflix, and while I’m watching, I can’t help but be reminded of another film with a concurrent theme. And then I think, hey, haven’t done a film-versus in a while.
In The Tall Grass (2019)
Characters whose names are broadly unimportant are drawn into a field by voices inside begging for help. The field is full of grass that’s over 8 ft. tall, and completely disorients you and displaces you, if you’re alive and capable of moving, it will teleport you around and around to make sure you can never leave, and even if you can pin down landmarks – like the church at the roadside, the mysterious and otherworldly rock with it’s tribal inscriptions, or the weirdly out of place bowling alley – that doesn’t mean you’ll ever reach them, or freedom. And worse, it turns out that the people lost in the grass with you are the ones who drew you in, no matter who entered first, because the grass is sending you around and around in time.
Oh, and Patrick Wilson is the bad guy. That’s not a spoiler, just look at the guy, he is the bad guy and that’s just how the world is.
It’s a very “Stephen King” film, hints of Lovecraft with a focus on the horror’s relationship with a small group of individuals, leaving enough elements to remain unexplained while somehow leaving the story as a closed loop. You understand the rules of the grass implicitly, and you get a feel for its motives too, some kind of strange digestive process in which the grass kills its victims over and over again. There’s a scene where Patrick Wilson shows someone how they have died over and over again to grant you a sense of how long these people have been trapped, and it’s impressive for sure… but it’s been done better.
Characters whose names are broadly unimportant are stranded on their yacht after a storm and trapped on a ghost ship that passes by. On the ship, a mysterious figure kills everyone one at a time, before one of the last survivors tracks the killer down, forces him/her to jump off the boat, and with the killer dead she looks over the side to see… an overturned yacht filled with people.
Our main character is a single mother struggling with life on holiday with friends to take her mind off things, who instead finds herself trapped in a loop of endlessly killing her friends in an attempt to set them free, or failing that, free herself. Along the way she encounters a growing number of places on board that make the horrid nature of the ship evident, a fallen locket, heaps of frantically scrawled notes, rewritten again and again to compare handwriting, massive heaps of the same corpse, lying in the place where they have died time and time again. And time and time again she kills everyone, desperately seeking a way home to her son, only to find…
Y’know what, this is a great film, ten years old it may be, but the reveal at the end is too good.
You can probably tell which of these films I prefer already, I’m pretty unapologetic in my bias, but it’s worth saying that I enjoyed both. In terms of which time-looping horror I prefer – oh wait! Surprise third contender!
Happy Death Day – Keep this one quick. This is the funny entry of the three, more like Groundhog Day except it’s a teenage girl who keeps getting murdered instead of Bill Murray. Ah, forget it, fun watch, great mystery, doesn’t quite blend with the rest. Moving on.
Anyway, while neither of these two actually explains why time keeps looping, there’s a feeling with King’s film that the grass is the malevolent agent, or at least the rock, or the cult, or something, there is a malevolent agent enacting upon the group to whom they are victims, that anyone could have fallen prey to and probably do on a regular basis. Not only that, but there are hints that an explanation exists, and given the way King’s works tend to interlink, an explanation is probably out there to be had, even if it’s buried somewhere deep inside the author’s own head somewhere.
Triangle on the other hand is far more personal, almost intimate in its nature. You very quickly lose the illusion that somehow the boat is an agent in the narrative, and merely a setting, and by the conclusion it is wholly apparent that the character of the struggling mother turned serial-serial killer is the epicentre of the loop.
In terms of pure cinematic quality, characterisation, acting, overall writing, I could point to neither as the superior film, they both hit somewhere north of adequate, positively enjoyable in fact, but I know which sold me a better nightmare, which had the better narrative planning, and which film made me feel like I was trapped with it, rather than trapped watching it. Triangle wins the versus, but watch both anyway.
Then Happy Death Day… like pudding after a good meal.