WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for In the Tall Grass, streaming now on Netflix.
Director Vincenzo Natali sticks to the core characters in Netflix's In the Tall Grass that writers Stephen King and Joe Hill came up with in their 2012 novella. The father-son duo scripted a truly psychological horror, with Natali now subverting the concept of a supernatural field in the heart of America, trapping folks in an inescapable maze. However, while the characters more or less remains the same, there are quite a few changes to key plot beats, as expected, so let's look at how the movie compares to the source material from seven years ago.
In the novella, Becky is the little sister of Cal, and she's fleeing her suburban town for San Diego after Travis knocked her up. He distanced himself from her as he didn't want the baby, so she opted to move in with her uncles until the kid was born, all so she could give it up for adoption. However, Travis is only mentioned at the end of the story when Becky, trapped in the field, has hallucinations of how badly he reacted to the news of her being pregnant.
The movie, though, makes Travis the focal point. He chases after Becky and Cal, and ends up in the field, too. It's months after, but because of the field bending space and time, it feels like minutes. Travis gets pulled in after hearing the cries of a young boy, Tobin, and he ends up feuding with Tobin's psychotic dad, Ross, trying to find a way to save Becky, their unborn kid, Tobin and Cal. Travis ends up sacrificing himself at the mystical rock to free Tobin and stop the siblings from entering the time loop of the field.
In the novella, in addition to Tobin, the other voice the siblings hear when driving past the field is Tobin's mom, Natalie. Her screams draw Cal and Becky in, which is all the more intriguing, as she's also urging Tobin to keep quiet so the madman Ross doesn't hear any of them. Natalie warns Tobin to hide and the siblings not to come in, but when her voice goes quiet, the siblings explore, only for Becky to later find Natalie's body. There are clues Ross killed and ate pieces of her.
The film depicts the marital breakdown differently, as we don't see Natalie dead right away. She actually tries to help her family escape, not realizing Ross is destined to become evil in the loop. Natalie loses her mind when she finds the bodies of those Ross murdered (including alternate versions of Becky), which culminates with Ross making his wife pay in front Tobin, Becky, Cal and Travis. At the rock, Natalie is stunned to see Becky alive despite passing her corpse moments before, which leads to Ross squashing her head in front them all, affirming he's an insane killer, as he tries to get them to touch the rock.
One of the most disturbing sequences in novella is when Becky is forced to eat her own baby. After Ross kicks her in the belly, she goes into premature labor, giving birth to a girl. Cal and Tobin, who went mad after touching the rock, feeds the woozy Becky something once Ross is killed, with Becky sadly thinking she's consuming something that's plant-based material, not realizing it's her own baby.
The book does have this cannibalistic arc, but it's done using Ross, who tried to sexually assault Becky. He decides he wants to be more sadistic and shapeshifts into Cal to gain her trust, only to feed her bits of the dead girl. It's just as sick, and while she goes on to die from her injuries, Becky manages to save Tobin from Ross moments later. Becky stabs Ross in the eye before dying, and while she killed him in the novella, in the film it's Travis who finishes the job.
THE TIME LOOP
The novella states that the grass alters time and space, making seconds feel like hours and allowing folks to use portals. But that's about it -- it's just a mind trip. There isn't any time loop and different versions of people being judged by the rock as they make their choices. Everyone meets once and chaos ensues from there. In fact, Tobin even says it's the cries of a random little girl who lured them in.
Natali drastically changes things with his time loop: Becky and Cal met the Humboldts; Travis is lured in by Tobin's cries thereafter; the innocent Humboldts on the road then get pulled in thanks to Travis calling out for Tobin; and so the loop builds and repeats. There's no one-off meeting in the film. Various versions of each character from different points in time bounce up in the lush acreage, not understanding they're tipping dominoes over and keeping each other tethered to the grass.
THE HEARTBREAKING ENDING
Both endings are soul-crushing. The novella concludes with Cal and Tobin going crazy after becoming corrupted by the rock. They convince Becky the way out after eating her girl is also to touch the rock, and she also gets possessed. The final scene then focuses on an RV that pulls up with new victims. They're hippies and upon hearing mysterious screams, they get ready to head into the field, creating an open-ended finale.
The film doesn't end on this kind of mysterious note and actually aims for a happy conclusion. Travis finds a rift after touching the rock and sends Tobin through it. The boy ends up at the church opposite the field, and he's able to stop Becky and Cal from entering. With a token sent by Travis, Tobin makes Becky understand the field is trouble, so she goes home to make her baby. Travis' mission is complete, as he redeems himself from being a deadbeat dad and assimilates into the field. Still, it's a bit odd because Tobin ends up an orphan and we're not sure if an existing version of Travis and the Humboldts could still pass by the field as versions of them still exist in the real world.
Written and directed by Vincenzo Natali, In the Tall Grass is now streaming on Netflix, and stars Patrick Wilson Laysla de Oliveira and Harrison Gilbertson.