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An interview with Vincenzo Natali, director of 'In the Tall Grass'

31 Days of Halloween

An interview with Vincenzo Natali, director of ‘In the Tall Grass’

The director of ‘In the Tall Grass’ talks about what makes horror so special.

Welcome to today’s installment of 31 Days of Halloween! This is our chance to set the mood for the spookiest and scariest month of the year as we focus our attention on horror and Halloween fun. For the month of October we’ll be talking to creators working in horror and share and recommend various pieces of underappreciated scary media-books, comics, movies, and television-to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.

Netflix had a strong presence at this year’s Fantastic Fest. The streaming giant showed off many upcoming movies. One of the most anticipated was the world premiere of In the Tall Grass. Based on a short story by horror icon Stephen King and his son Joe Hill, the movie is a unique take on a simple premise. Director Vincenzo Natali took some time during the festival to speak with AiPT!

AiPT!: How would you describe In the Tall Grass?

Vincenzo Natali: It’s a family film.

AiPT!: So we’re on the same page!

Natali: Yes! It really is about family. I say that half jokingly but I actually mean it because the emotional core of this thing is about two people deciding to have a family together.

AiPT!: Every month there’s a new Stephen King movie. Was it intimidating to adapt one of his works?

Natali: It wasn’t. It was in, so much, as I knew he was going to read it. That really scared me. And Joe Hill, by the way. I am also a huge fan of his and think he’s a fantastic writer. On the other hand, I’ve been around his writing for so long that it felt like taking a warm bath. Writing this came to me very naturally.

AiPT!: What drew you to In the Tall Grass?

Natali: I think it was a lot of things. Not the least of which was the environment itself, which I found fascinating. I thought it was really archetypal. It reminded me of the Elysian fields of Greek myth. I thought the story was dealing with really basic stuff like reproduction, sex, death and it has also dealt with religion. It was very primal. In fact, the story truly shocked me and that doesn’t happen often, but it really did. I thought it was digging very deeply into what it means to be human and what our relationship is to ourselves and nature.

An interview with Vincenzo Natali, director of 'In the Tall Grass'

AiPT!: The fields, were they constructed or did you actually find a location like that?

Natali: We found a real location. There is some augmentation but that’s a real field. It’s called Miscanthus grass. We shot it very close to Stratford, Ontario in Canada. It happened to be next to this flat Kansas road. Kansas Lake Road. So we did have to build the church. That wasn’t there. There was no other way to do it. You could never build grass like that. You could never do a latex version of true acid. It’s a very unique kind of organism and it’s so beautiful. It has a real quality to it. So that simply was the only way to make the movie.

AiPT!: The use of color in the movie was interesting. It’s dark for the most part. And then at the end there’s lots of reds and then you get the brightness of the explosions. Was that intentional or did it just work out that way?

Natali: One of the reasons I wanted to do the film, after reading the story, was I really love the bucolic nature of it. A lot of it does take place at night. In the day, it’s beautiful. It’s such a beautiful environment and, yet, all these horrible things that are happening there. I think it was that combination that was very appealing to me. I like shooting on location using natural light. We didn’t do a lot. There wasn’t a lot of equipment. We were traveling pretty light there.

AiPT!: In the Tall Grass, is basically a haunted woods story. Those have been around for ages. Why do you think they’re still endearing today?

Natali: I think why horror does what it does is because it grapples with those basic existential questions that we all have about ourselves in relation to the universe and the fact that we’re all going to die at some point. It extrapolates on that in a fantastical way. The idea of entering an alien space, and in this case kind of entering alien organism, because the environment is alive, is very primal I’m sure as part of our shared genetic memory.

I can tell you for sure that when you really walked into that field it was terrifying because you have no reference points whatsoever. In fact, the crew would wear whistles so that when they got lost in the grass we could find them and they could find us. I think think those stories have been with us for a long time because that’s where we come from.

Natali: I think this is a moment… I was just at the climate strike here at City Hall. I think people are becoming -especially urbanites – are becoming much more sensitized to nature and its importance in our lives and our relationship to it. I don’t think I was aware of that consciously while I was doing this, but I think that’s part of it.

AiPT!: There’s a lot of parallels to In the Tall Grass and Cube. Why do horror and sci-fi go so well together? This goes back to Alien and even older movies.

Natali: I know, isn’t that funny? It’s like peanut butter and chocolate. They marry so nicely together and why that is? I think that they’re both very internal genres. I think that, both science fiction and horror, when they’re at their best are operating in the realm of metaphor and they’re very inward looking.

A movie like Alien, which is all about violation and, in its coarsest terms, rape and our fear of our place in the universe… those are analogous to both genres and they work in concert together. I love hearing people debate about whether Alien is a horror film or a science fiction.

An interview with Vincenzo Natali, director of 'In the Tall Grass'

AiPT!: The eternal debate.

Natali: I think the answer is both.

AiPT!: There’s a lot going on In the Tall Grass because there’s a sci-fi aspect to it, there’s definitely a horror aspect to it and you talked about the religious and reproductive aspects. It never gets confusing though.

Natali: Oh, good. Thank you. I’m glad to hear that. It’s frustrating to me that it takes me so long to get movies made. It took me five years before Netflix came along and said we’d like to make this. I had the script for five years. The benefit of that is that the script marinated and was read by a lot of people, and had a lot of feedback. By the time we actually got to shooting it, that script had been refined. A lot of those issues had been addressed. I had written drafts that had lots of backstory and exposition. And then taking that out because it wasn’t necessary. Even in the editing process it came down to adding a line here or removing a line there to give you just enough information to make it clear, but not enough that it felt like we were taking away from the enigma and the mystery of what that place is.

But, having said that, it’s so hard to know when you work on something for this many years. It’s impossible to be objective. So you’re having to gauge based on other people’s reactions.

AiPT!: My final question ties into that. You mentioned you work for awhile on movies. Are you currently working on anything or do you have plans for anything?

Like every other filmmaker, I’m working on a whole bunch of things all the time. And just praying that something happens. But now, we’re living in a new era of television. With the advent of all of these streaming platforms, it’s a very vibrant, exciting time.

I feel like the definition between what is a movie and what is a TV show is now almost erased or it’s radically shifted. In some ways TV shows are more cinematic these days than a lot of movies. What I’m trying to say is, in that way it’s an exciting time because it’s not just about making movies.

AiPT!: Now there is prestige TV shows which are a lot more prestigious than some movies.

Natali: It just feels like TV more often than film these days is pushing the boundaries and doing new things. Which it used to be, of course, the opposite. It used to be that TV was the comfort food that everybody ate. Movies were the things that challenged you and now it’s the complete opposite.

AiPT!: Yeah, it’s funny how that works.

Natali: It’s completely reversed, it’s so funny.

AiPT!: It is because you think, there’s too many streaming services but then you see what they’re doing on there and you’re like, “Actually, this might be a good thing.”

Yeah, for the moment it sure is.

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