Vincenzo Natali did his best to adapt Stephen King and Joe Hill’s novella In The Tall Grass into a feature film, but given that the story is relatively short, it had to go through some big changes. In The Tall Grass was originally published in two parts in Esquire magazine in 2012, and was released a few months later in e-book format. Natali had plans to adapt the story into a film in 2015, but the project wasn’t greenlit until 2018 when Netflix purchased the film rights.
In The Tall Grass follows siblings Cal and Becky DeMuth who are lured into a field of (very) tall grass after they hear a boy and his mother crying for help. What seemed like a somewhat easy task soon turned into a nightmare as they realized there was no way out and that it was no normal field of grass. The first half of the story is more about suspense, as the reader and the siblings discover together that there’s something wrong with the grass, and the second half is more horror-oriented, as the biggest threats hidden in the grass begin to appear.
The story is full of mystery, which ends up being a big part of its appeal, but the film fell short and ended up not being as frightening or suspenseful as the source material. Still, the film did what it could to expand on the mystery of the tall grass, the Humboldts, and Becky’s past, which worked in some cases and in others turned out to be unnecessary. Here are the biggest changes In The Tall Grass went through for the film adaptation.
Becky is Cal’s little sister and she’s pregnant. The father of her child, Travis, chose to distance himself and not get involved, so Becky decided to move in with her uncles in San Diego until the baby arrived. Once there, her plan was to give the baby up for adoption. In the book, Travis is only mentioned towards the end of the story, when Becky is having hallucinations/vivid dreams and remembers Travis’ reaction to her pregnancy. And that’s all there is to him.
The In The Tall Grass film, on the other hand, made Travis the most important character of the story. Played by Harrison Gilbertson, Travis arrived to the field months after Cal and Becky got lost in it. As they never arrived to their destination, Travis decided to look for them, and went into the grass after finding their car parked outside the church. He came across with Tobin, who asked him if he recognized him and then took him to Becky’s rotting corpse. Hours later, Travis screamed for help, luring Tobin, Ross, and Natalie into the field – and that’s how the loop was made.
In a very Hollywood-ish move, once in the grass and reunited with Becky (from another timeline), Travis came to the realization that he made the wrong decision and told Becky he wanted to be with her and their baby. Travis ended up being the hero, as he gave in and touched the rock to save Tobin, Becky, and Cal, by sending Tobin to the church and instructing him to stop the siblings from entering the grass.
Tobin’s mother, Natalie, was the other voice the siblings heard when driving past the field – except she wasn’t asking for help as Tobin was, but warning them to stay away. Natalie’s screams only made Cal and Becky more curious, and despite her warnings, they entered the grass. Natalie’s screams suddenly stopped, and when Ross found Becky and convinced her he knew a way out, he took her where Natalie’s body was. Ross had dismembered her body, and it’s implied that he even ate parts of it.
In the film, Natalie wasn’t dead, but she did try to warn them about Ross, especially when she found them all at the rock. Natalie was shocked to see Becky there as she had just seen her corpse in the grass, and when everyone decided to leave, Ross wounded Travis and killed Natalie by crushing her head with his hands... in front of their son. Natalie had equally awful fates in both versions, and while she also tried to warn them about Ross in the film, she had a somewhat bigger presence (and impact) in the In The Tall Grass book.
Cal, Ross, and the baby
One of the most shocking scenes in In The Tall Grass is that of Becky being forced to eat her own baby. In the book, Ross repeatedly kicked her belly, inducing labor at only six months. Becky gave birth to a girl, but never got to hold her and only saw her from a distance. Cal and Tobin were there with her, and Cal fed her something that had a weird taste, even though he claimed it was “only grass”. When Becky realized what happened, Cal and Tobin told her that the baby was fine, and she would be able to see it if she touched the rock.
Of all the scenes the film added and changed, this one stayed the same for the most part. Becky wasn’t kicked by Ross but she did give birth prematurely, and passed out. When she woke up, she saw Cal looking after her and feeding her – only it wasn’t really Cal, but Ross, as Becky was already hallucinating. Becky didn’t recover, even though she had a moment of strength in order to save Tobin from touching the rock, but she died moments later.
In the book, it’s mentioned that the grass messes with time and space, as in making them either stop or seem longer than they are, moving people around as it pleases and messing with the minds of those who dare to enter. There’s no mention or hint of a time loop, as Tobin, Ross, and the siblings only met once, and Tobin even said that what brought his family in was a little girl crying for help.
To provide some explanation to the grass and everything it does, the team behind In The Tall Grass decided to add a good old time loop: Becky and Cal met the Humboldts, Travis was drawn into the field by Tobin, and the Humboldts were brought in thanks to Travis. Sounds complicated, but it really isn’t. However, the film doesn’t explain the loop nor the grass’ power beyond that, and ends up leaving more unanswered questions than if it had stuck to the source material.
Even with all these differences, the biggest one is the ending. The book ends with Becky giving in and hugging the rock. Some time later, a group of hippies decides to make a picnic at the abandoned church, and hear someone screaming for help in the field. The group decides that they should all take part in the adventure/noble cause of saving these people and go into the field. What happens next is up to the reader’s imagination.
It’s a good ending that further sets the mystery and danger of the tall grass, but the In The Tall Grass film decided to go for a more “happy ending” type of finale. In it, and as mentioned above, Travis touched the rock in an attempt to save Cal and Becky (from another timeline). Once with the power and knowledge that the rock brought, Travis took Tobin and sent him to the abandoned church through a time-and-space hole, telling him to stop the siblings from entering the field and giving him Becky’s keychain. When Tobin stepped out of the church, Cal and Becky were about to get out of the car and into the field. Tobin successfully stopped them (and showing Becky the keychain really helped) and they drove back home. Although Cal and Becky were stopped, at least on that timeline, it’s not that much of a happy ending as Tobin was left orphaned, while Travis was “consumed” by the grass.