An excerpt from Reals’ script review for In the Tall Grass which will be available 06/22/20:
What Needed Work
The Length – The script is 112 pages, while the film is only 90 minutes, which speaks to a large reason that I enjoyed the film more than the script.
As I listed above, the novella comes in at 64 pages, so the script should not need to nearly double that to be effective.
If this was an 88 page creepy little horror piece, I would have been quite happy with that.
Instead, it is full of filler scenes (like the one mentioned later in The Introduction section) that could and should have been cut.
We are currently in a King-Aissance, where anything with Mr. King’s name on it will sell for big bucks, so having the rights to a popular novella by the author probably set the writer up to do whatever he wanted, and get little pushback.
Most of us, however, do not have access to a work by Stephen King, so we need to be on top of our game and not make mistakes like this, and we should certainly not include filler where things can be easily trimmed.
Shifting Perspectives – Similar to my review of The Grudge (2020) I had an issue with how this script kept introducing us to characters, then killing them off, or moving to a new character/perspective while leaving the original narrative unresolved. Now that the shameless self-promotion portion of this review is over (I have also done lots of other *fantastic* reviews of films and scripts on the site, just saying) let’s dive into why this is problematic in relation to how you tell a story.
Now, I am not saying that this is a technique that will never work, just that you have to be very, very careful about how you go about switching protagonists / main perspectives in your story.
Here, for example, we start with a pregnant woman on the road with her brother, hoping to start over. They stop because the woman has a bout of morning sickness, and hear a child crying from somewhere deep In The Tall Grass. Since there is no one else around, the two rush to find the child, only to get lost themselves and come face-to-face with an unimaginable nightmare.
That is the plot right there. And that is more than enough. However, this script was not content to give us that, and we keep shifting perspectives to new characters.
In fact, the script even switches perspectives between established characters in a hamfisted way.
For example, on page 10, we get this line:
NOW WE SHIFT OUR PERSPECTIVE TO CAL
And then, on Page 12, we get this:
NOW WE SHIFT OUR PERSPECTIVE BACK WITH BECKY
And then again on Page 23 (the very end, so really Page 24), we cut to Travis, a new character who is looking for Becky (the girl we met at the beginning). That is fine, as it connects to our first two characters, but it is not OK if Becky and Cal (the first two we meet) were our “Horror Opening Kill” because it took 23 pages to get through.
I suppose the real “Horror Opening” if you could call it that, is the grass waving in the wind. This is not scary, tells us nothing about the plot, the characters, or the monster/killer, and should have been revamped to include a short, shocking opening kill.
We then shift again on page 38, and by that point I was having trouble keeping track of everyone we had met, but more importantly, was having trouble caring about any of these people because we had spent so little time with them, had not given them any really distinct character traits, and had jumped around so much that I had no reason to think we would spend any meaningful time with the new characters who were just introduced.
The Introduction – If I remember correctly, the film starts out with Cal and Becky in the car, driving away from their old lives, looking for a new start. And that is how the script should have started as well, but instead we get a scene that only serves to spout some exposition about Travis (Becky’s Ex-Boyfriend) being a dick, Cal not liking Travis, and Becky not wanting to have an abortion.
Now, you can argue that this is all important information, but my counter-argument would be that all of this is revealed later through dialogue, description, and the way characters act around each other, so cutting this scene would help the flow and would not hurt the story in the slightest.
In addition to that, it would cut down on the hefty 112 page count, but I discussed that above.
The Third Act – I didn’t need this script to become The Shining at the end, with Ross turning into an unhinged violent psychopath who stalks our female hero and the child through a secluded location. We have seen that done countless times, in The Shining, for one, and I was hoping for something more than a repeat of another King work.
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