It’s a mixed bag of scares with this foursome—2 from Netflix and 2 from Shudder, but they all have kids and creatures in common.
IN THE TALL GRASS (2019)
The director of Cube, Splice, and a whole bunch of other horror gets stuck adapting a Stephen King novella that starts off like Children of the Corn, sucks you in momentarily with its concept, then becomes a repetitive snooze fest.
A brother and sister taking a road trip stop on the side of the road and hear a child calling from the corn stalks…I mean…tall grass.
They plunge into the maze-like vegetation to find the boy, immediately get separated, and then discover they can’t find each other no matter how much they try to follow the sounds of each other’s voices.
Eventually they come across the boy. Then his father. Then his mother. Even the sister’s ex shows up. Everyone’s stories begin to get caught up in a time loop; they’ve each gone into the grass because they hear the voice of one of the other characters calling.
There’s also a supernatural rock monument. And grass people. Yes, grass people.
The blatant theme of redemption as they all argue and their dirty secrets come out is pounded into our head, and that’s because one character literally walks around babbling about redemption. Unfortunately, nothing redeems this film.
DARK LIGHT (2019)
The director of Rites of Spring and The Devil’s Dolls delivers a movie that made me very impatient for everything to get sorted out. It finally happens in the last half hour, when this suddenly turns into a totally fun creature feature.
The majority of the film is tedious. There’s a mother, her daughter, and her ex-husband. I believe there’s a non-chronological narrative, but I’m not even sure. The mom is considered to be pretty damn crazy, so when she brings her daughter to live in her childhood home, the local law enforcement is keeping a close eye on her.
After she takes her daughter into the cornfields to play a game at night she becomes convinced there’s some sort of monster after them. Shit gets weird as the white trash background of this little family unfolds.
Finally the monster thrills hit when the family ends up in the house battling a cyclops type creature with a spotlight for an eye—a spotlight that will swallow your soul! It’s basic scary movie stuff, but it’s still a blast. At least for 30 minutes.
I expected Z to be a derivative eye-roller, so I was pleasantly surprised by some highly effective scenes and totally off the wall twists that saved it from being just another “boy with an imaginary friend” horror movie.
A couple’s young son begins acting weird and having major problems at school as he bonds with an imaginary friend at home.
But then mom begins seeing things in the house and becomes convinced her son’s imaginary friend is real. So many eerie scenes and a creepy as fuck imaginary friend make this one a total joyride.
Sure there are some cheesy moments—including one flash of the monster that looks about as spooky as something coming at you in Disney’s Haunted Mansion, and even some moments that feel right out of The Ring, but overall the film is pretty damn insane with a refreshingly weirder than usual plot.
Sitting down to a Shudder double feature, I really did expect Z to be the disappointment and Spanish language film Terrified to be the winner. Believe me, it started out quite strong, with a handful of neighbors experiencing some hella scary shit.
But almost immediately after the first major incident, a group of detectives becomes the focus of the film. They already believe something supernatural is happening and basically work as a paranormal research group for the remainder of the film.
While the monster is quite freaky, it is overused to the point of losing its potency, and there’s excessive use of the same damn orchestral stinger raised to ridiculous decibels in an effort to ensure you get scared.
But the biggest problem is that the story is a mess. I can’t even explain it—it’s like you can follow the plot and understand what’s going on, yet at the same time it makes absolutely no sense, jumping all over the place and introducing a myriad of ideas that don’t fuse together to make a cohesive story. Honestly, this film was only 85 minutes long and quite fast-paced, yet it felt like it went on forever.