In The Tall Grass

I enjoyed the new Netflix horror film In the Tall Grass, watched in chunks over the last week, despite all its flaws.

I live for Netflix in October. And other streaming services too. Horror content is inbound. Might need to renew my Shudder subscription just for this month too.

[Spoilers ahead, obviously.]

In the Tall Grass is part Triangle, part Children of the Corn, with a heavy dose of megalithic astrohorror. The main thing I liked about it was the film’s villain, Ross, played by Patrick Wilson, a real estate agent who gets possessed by dark powers emanating from a megalith in the middle of a field of grass from which the cast cannot escape.

He reminded me of an old post I did about The Haunting of Hill House, and a since-deleted tweet by someone who said that all horror movies, at their core, are about real estate — or, more accurately, the commodified estate of the Real.

It’s an interesting twist on the old racially insensitive trope of the American landscape and its native occupants having their revenge on those who build on their burial grounds. The film’s templexity undoes this, describing a force far older than any of us, but makes capitalist property rights a kind of insidious infection that rises out from the ground beneath our feet.

Is this the latent horror of the first agricultural revolution?

There are subtle hints towards this throughout the film, such as Ross warning his son against running into the grass because it’s “private property”, but everything comes to ahead in orbit of Becky, a pregnant woman caught between her weedy but overbearing brother who seems to have incestuous desires for her, her handsome but unreliable rock star ex who is allergic to responsibility but eventually realises he might want to start a family after all, the creepy young Tobin for whom she becomes a surrogate mother, and her own pregnant body that is working violently against her.

Becky struggles to assert her own autonomy against her social situation and nature itself — be that her own individual autonomy or the autonomy of the world as it exists around her, each always already plugged into the other.

Of course, in the end, the film bails on its own intriguing grassy entanglement. Escaping from the field through a tunnel that leads to a church, Future Tobin stops Past Becky and her brother from entering the field in the first. This strange encounter with the child seems to make her realise that she shouldn’t give up her baby, but her ex — the father? — is still somehow trapped dead within the field where he first went to try and save her.

He becomes the ultimate victim — a victim of his own social elusiveness. Becky, on the other hand, is saved. She does the right thing — reaffirming her property rights, making her claim to the estate of the Real…

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