WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Netflix's In the Tall Grass, now streaming.
Netflix's In the Tall Grass certainly brings Stephen King and Joe Hill 2012 novella of the same name to life as a psychological and creepy horror affair in the heart of America. It's basically a new take on The Happening, except that this field isn't about destroying people physically by driving them to suicide; it focuses on mental torture in the form of a time loop. However, in addition to this demonic acreage, there is a human avatar acting as a villain in the form of Ross Humboldt (Patrick Wilson). Sadly, as scary as he comes off, Ross feels like nothing more than a ripoff of Jack Nicholson's Jack Torrance from 1980's The Shining.
Based on King's 1977 novel, director Stanley Kubrick's The Shining detailed the mental breakdown of Jack, an aspiring writer and recovering alcoholic, who also acts as the off-season caretaker at the desolate Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies. His son, Danny, uses his "shining" to see ghosts and the hotel's past. In the midst of a winter storm and with nowhere to go, Jack's sanity deteriorates due to these supernatural forces inhabiting the hotel, and he eventually becomes insane to the point he tries to kill the boy and his wife, Wendy, as well.
There are several similarities to Ross' journey, because he enters the field and also becomes possessed by the mystical forces around. Ross becomes corrupted by the rock that acts as the brain of the field. His slow degradation is reminiscent of how Jack broke down bit by bit. In fact, Ross' behavior and his idiosyncrasies are just like Jack's, ranging from aloof to paranoid to whimsical to downright scary.
And so, Ross reaches a breaking point as well, similar to when we saw Jack wielding his axe and smashing down doors. Ross wants to judge the teenagers in the field. He assaults Becky (a pregnant teenager), beats her ex Travis to a pulp (as he tried to make her abort their unborn baby) and also kills Cal (Becky's brother who's in love with her). But like Jack, he turns his focus on his own family, with his wife Natalie becoming his first victim as he crushes her skull. He then goes after their kid, Tobin, reminding us of how Jack went haywire, except this trap is a lush piece of nature and not a building with four walls to hold victims. It's a mental maze, not a physical one, and with Ross turning full-blown evil, you can see director Vincenzo Natali wanted to honor what Nicholson did by having Wilson ape it. But there's a point where influence and homage turns into straight copycatting. In this case, it's off-putting how Ross behaves.
He's a clear rip-off of Jack, and it doesn't help Wilson portrays him with so many like-minded quirks on top of all the emotions both characters share. It's jarring and distracting. The crazier Ross gets with his wide-eyes, saliva-ridden lips and frantic movements, the more Natali's movie feels unoriginal with respect to this particular component.
In the novella, Ross came off this way as well, so one would have thought Natali might have scrubbed that aspect and changed it up, letting Wilson put his own spin on the character to differentiate it from the psychopathic Torrance patriarch. But instead, the role feels like Jack in a field, being maniacal and bloodthirsty, reminding us way too much of the ordeal in the Overlook.
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.