While he's been known to be a master of the supernatural, Stephen King still has some more grounded moments in his literary showcase that are due for a good adaptation. After all, this is the man who brought us the sources The Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me, and Apt Pupil, so he's no stranger to the horror that is the human condition. That's exactly where the scares lie in 1922, a novella from King's Full Dark, No Stars collection, and the subject of a new Netflix film.
Wilfred "Wilf" James (Thomas Jane) wants to maintain the family homestead divided by his farm and the one left to his wife Arlette (Molly Parker) by her departed father. But Mrs. James has designs to move the family to the big city, a decision that she's dead set on following through, and with their son Henry (Dylan Schmid) in tow. But Wilf's not gonna let the matter go without a fight, and soon enough he enlists his son to help him murder his wife, so they can keep the farm. What starts as a murder turns into something much bigger, and more sinful, than either of them could have ever imagined.
The most important thing you need to keep in mind when going into 1922 is the fact that it's a slow burn of a film. Rather than shock the audience with jump scares, writer/director Zak Hilditch's adaptation of the novella is a tension-filled exercise in gorgeous minimalism. If anything, this seems like the most arthouse adaptation of a Stephen King work to date, allowing the audience to completely drink in the scenery and visual flourish of the American South.
In fact, there are two words that say everything you need to know about 1922: quiet menace. The things that go bump in the proverbial night of this particular Stephen King story are very human, and very close to the hearts and minds of the audience. But while the film is very quiet in its movements, it isn't any less severe than some of King's more grandiose work. By the time 1922 has had its way with the audience, everything in the realm of the James family has spiraled into severe madness, leaving a path of destruction in its wake that's precise, but still extremely devastating.
Much like Gerald's Game before it, 1922 is a project that both relies on a fantastic supporting cast, but also focuses in on one, shining lead. That lead is King alum, and underrated character actor, Thomas Jane (The Mist). It's important to highlight the underrated bit, because if there is any film that's truly shown off Jane's full faceted talents, it's 1922. His role as embattled farmer Wilf James is a rich tapestry of folksy family man, and the "conniving" side that he talks about throughout the story's entirety. One minute he's convincing his son to help him kill his wife, the next he's truly realizing what he's sewn and waiting for his final judgement, but every single moment he comes into frame, he commands the scene.
But if you're looking for scares, and let's face it what Stephen King fan isn't, there's still plenty to be afraid of in 1922. You've got your choice of the pot-boiling dread of whether the James boys are going to get caught for their crimes, as well as possibly held responsible for the fallout of said crimes; or you've got good, old fashioned body horror. Both are accounted for in Zak Hilditch's film, and the writer/director of the piece handles both with equal dread. What humanity might let slide, fate certainly takes offense to.
The film version of 1922 is quite possibly the most impressive Stephen King project to have made its way to audiences this year. It truly feels like a corner of the famed author's works and universe that we've never seen, yet at the same time totally familiar to those who know every story to come from his hand. Most importantly, 1922 is another extremely solid hit from Netflix, who has gone 2 for 2 with auteurs that have done justice to King's work in the filmed medium. It is a tale of human guilt, divine consequence, and good old fashioned King-ly horror, with a performance by Thomas Jane that only solidifies his standing as a leading actor who Hollywood continues to underappreciate. It deserves to be held up alongside the greats.
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