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Screamfest Review: ‘1922’ A Stunning Take on Stephen King Novella

By: J. Carlos Menjivar

Considering the recent success of It and the TV adaptation of The Mist, Stephen King is currently going through a boom (also look at Gerald’s Game and The Dark Tower) as the cultural zeitgeist is bent on reintroducing his work to a newer generation. This will hopefully lead back to a desire of discovering classic King adaptations and the plethora of King stories out there. Fans of his work might be familiar with his novella 1922, and if not, you will soon be able to check out the latest adaptation of the aforementioned work only on Netflix.

1922 stars Thomas Jane as Wilfred James a Nebraska rancher living the simple life with his wife Arlette (Molly Parker) and their son Henry (Dylan Schmid). The love between the two is long lost, Arlette has ambitions of making it to the city, with plans of selling off her acreage of land to make that happen and filing for divorce. Wilfred isn’t having any of it, his place is on the farm among the corn and rural flatlands, and he convinces his son that this is the place for them. Their relationship is interesting, Wilfred manipulates his young and naive teenage son in order to get him on his side, and Henry without question, sides with his father.

Thomas Jane as ‘Wilfred James’ in ‘1922’

Arlette is not backing down; she wants her freedom. Wilfred isn’t either, and his solution to the problem treads into dark territory– if he can’t have his way than neither can Arlette. His remaining option is to conspire with his son to kill his wife, planning the method and particulars down to the very last detail.

1922 is a dark film juxtaposed with rich and opulent set design and rural, eye-catching cinematography reminiscent of Terence Malick’s Days of Heaven.  The film is  simple and straightforward but, what makes the act of conspiring and the follow through with the murder so horrendous is the seeming normalcy of Wilfred and his family; one wouldn’t imagine Wilfred as a man willing to manipulate his son and murder his wife. There are glimpses of Wilfred’s serious minded disposition, from eavesdropping on his wife and negating her authority, but there is nothing nefarious to indicate a man capable of manipulation and murder. There is a hidden complexity in the character of Wilfred and it becomes clearer as he slowly goes mad after the bloody and messy murder and the domino effect that follows.

‘1922’

Thomas Jane gives a powerhouse performance, and perhaps this is the best acting he’s ever done. The film opens with Wilfred giving his confession of murder, Jane limps to his hotel room, hunched over, and cold, and despite knowing how it ends for him we want to know how Wilfred arrived at this place– Jane expertly takes us on his emotional and psychological thriller. He plays it straight with an air of confidence as he drawls through his dialogue and methodically falls prey to his conscience or the discovery of such. Although limited in her role, due to her character’s circumstances, Molly Parker is astounding as the unfortunate wife; her eyes betray a hidden pain and an entrapment that she yearns to escape making her death that much more shocking. 

Director Zak Hilditch weaves a gorgeous tapestry of visual sophistication and taut psychological horror. He’s in full command in this impressively crafted film, it is astounding just how meticulous everything is. The film’s best moments are when Hilditch plays with reality. After the murder of Arlette, Wilfred continues to be haunted by the memory of her, it is unclear if she’s an apparition or just a figment of his imagination. 

1922 does not fit into any one genre, in fact, you can’t really pigeonhole the film  as strictly horror; it’s a drama, a stageplay, a horror film, and a psychological character study all rolled into one. This King adaptation is no It, as far as horror goes, but it is a much more sophisticated telling of the story and perhaps the best looking King story of the year. 

1922 debuts exclusively on Netflix on October 20, 2017.

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