Vincenzo Natali's new horror film In the Tall Grass has a substantially diffeftobinrent ending from the the novella it's based on. Written by Stephen King and his son, Joe Hill, In the Tall Grass was originally published in two parts in Esquire magazine, and tells the story of a brother and sister who are lured into a field of tall grass by a boy's cries for help. Once inside, they become separated and discover that the tall grass is twisting space and moving them around, making it impossible for them to either find each other or escape.
Released on Netflix, In the Tall Grass stars Laysla de Oliveira and Avery Whitted as Becky and Cal DeMuth, siblings who are on a road trip to San Diego. Unlike the original novella, the movie also introduces Travis (Harrison Gilbertson), the father of Becky's baby, who wasn't interested in being a father but goes looking for Becky after she goes missing. Also lost in the tall grass are Ross (Patrick Wilson), Nathalie (Rachel Wilson) and Tobin Humbolt (Will Buie Jr.), a family who were lured into the grass by Travis' voice, and who in turn lured Becky and Cal in.
Yes, in the movie adaptation of In the Tall Grass, the grass manipulates not only space but time as well. The three parties who enter the tall grass are trapped in a time loop wherein they keep following each other's voices (or, in Travis' case, Becky's lost copy of Jane Eyre) into the field. Inside this time loop they die over and over again, killed by Ross Humbolt, and their only hope of redemption is to touch a sinister black rock inside the field, which will gift them with the knowledge of how to leave the tall grass - while also making it so that they never want to.
What Happens at the End of In the Tall Grass
After managing to escape from Russ Hombolt by stabbing him in the eye, Becky is mobbed by the figures she has been seeing in the tall grass. They carry her to the Black Rock of the Redeemer, and in the mud in front of it she suffers a miscarriage, waking up to find Cal crouching over her, with the dead fetus wrapped in a bundle. She loses consciousness again and wakes up to find Cal feeding her something. She asks what she's eating and he replies, "Grass. Just grass." Too late, she realizes that the food tastes familiar because it tastes like her, and Cal has actually been feeding her pieces of her own baby. Not only that, but it's not Cal feeding her, but Ross Humbolt.
Travis and Tobin arrive in the clearing to find Becky near death, and soon after Travis is attacked by Ross, who stabs him in the stomach with a broken bone that he pulls out of the mud. Ross then tries to force Tobin to touch the rock, but is stopped by Becky, who removes his remaining eye with her necklace. Travis kills Ross by strangling him with a bundle of grass, but Becky also dies from the trauma of her miscarriage. Realizing that he too is dying from is stab wound, Travis touches the rock in order to gain understanding of the grass, which he then uses to transport Tobin back to the church.
Tobin emerges from the church to find that he has travelled back to just before Becky and Cal entered the tall grass. As they listen to the other Tobin's cries from inside the grass, Tobin warns them not to go into the field and shows Becky the bloodied double of her necklace that Travis gave to him. Realizing that something isn't right, Becky says that they should take Tobin to the police station in the town that they passed through, also deciding that she doesn't want to give her baby up for adoption in San Diego after all. They leave, and back in the tall grass, Travis succumbs to his stab wound, the grass closing over him.
How the Original Novella Ends
In the Tall Grass' ending may be bittersweet, but it's a lot happier than the ending of King and Hill's original novella. In that story, Cal and Becky's tale comes to an end after Cal, having touched the rock, tricks Becky into eating her own miscarried baby. That element of the story is also even more upsetting than the movie, as Ross Humbolt forces the miscarriage by repeatedly kicking her in the stomach. When Becky realizes what she's been eating she is naturally horrified, but Cal and Tobin tell her that if she touches the rock she'll see that the baby is actually fine, and she'll understand the grass and become part of it. The distraught Becky obeys, and hugs the rock.
In the story's epilogue, a group of hippies in an RV stop at the Church of the Black Rock of the Redeemer, planning to have a picnic. However, they hear a woman and a boy (presumably Becky and Tobin) calling to them from inside the tall grass and decide to go in and rescue them. It's suggested that some people should stay behind to set up the barbecue, but no one wants to miss out on the mercy mission, so they all head into the tall grass - and that's where the story ends.
Is Travis Still Stuck in the Tall Grass?
The biggest question raised by In the Tall Grass' ending is whether, by helping Tobin to break free and warn Becky and Cal away from the field, Travis has broken the time loop and also liberated himself, Ross, and Nathalie. The final shot of the movie, in which Travis is shown dying on the ground before the grass closes over him, would seem to indicate otherwise. However, Travis didn't originally set out to pursue Becky and Cal until they'd been missing for two months, which would presumably mean that there's still a version of Travis back home. It's possible that Travis is simultaneously still out in the world and also lost in the tall grass.
The situation with the Humbolts is different. It appears that the Humbolts arrived at the church in the silver car that Cal parks behind (it's the only car not covered in dust when we see the Humbolts enter the tall grass later), which would mean that the Humbolts were chronologically the first group to enter the tall grass - even though they were lured in by Travis. Since there was no one to prevent them from going in, and they never managed to escape, it's heavily implied that Ross and Nathalie remain in the tall grass and Tobin has effectively been orphaned.
The time travel mechanics of In the Tall Grass are deliberately left ambiguous (which is probably for the best, since they mainly exist in service of the film's horror premise). While we could speculate about branching timelines and multiple universes created by Tobin's escape from the tall grass, the simplest reading of the movie's ending is that Tobin, Cal, and Becky escape the field, while Travis, Ross, and Nathalie do not.
The Church of the Black Rock of the Redeemer Explained
Something made explicit by King and Hill's short story is that all of the cars at the Church of the Black Rock of the Redeemer belong to people who have been lured into the tall grass, which is why they're all covered with dust and seemingly abandoned. The novella also reveals that the local people know about the tall grass and the black rock, enough to avoid it, and that every time another car is abandoned they loot it for valuables. The novella also suggests that the Church of the Black Rock of the Redeemer was probably built by those same people, with Cal observing, "They probably love this old field. And fear it. And worship it... And sacrifice to it."
The Black Rock of the Redeemer itself is much, much older. As Ross Humbolt says, it has been around since before the continents shifted. The scene in which the ground in front of it opens up to reveal a pit of writhing bodies emphasizes that the rock has been collecting its victims for many thousands of years. Its true nature and origin, like the nitty-gritty details of how exactly it twists time and space, are deliberately left mysterious - something that's common in both King and Hill's stories, which tend to employ a lot of magical realism.
When people touch the rock, they are "redeemed," becoming one with the tall grass. The grass-headed figures that carry Becky to the Black Rock of the Redeemer may be people who have been "redeemed" by it and transformed over time, or they may be the original minions of the Black Rock, depicted as stick figures in its carvings.
In the Tall Grass' ending may be happier than the original novella, but it leaves the mystery of the tall grass and the rock no less twisted - all the better to stick in the minds of the audience. If there's anything we've learned from this movie, it's that you shouldn't follow mysterious voices into fields, unless you happen to be on the back of a lawnmower.