In a year full of Stephen King adaptations, fans have had their chance to see some of the author's most iconic characters brought to life. Many eyes may have been glued to the big screen for King's terrifying tales, allowing a film like 1922, chronicling one man's murderous manipulations in hopes of keeping his family together and featuring one of Thomas Jane's career-best performances, to fly below the radar to debut on Netflix.
Wilfred James (Jane) wants nothing more out of life than to spend the rest of his days on his farm in rural Nebraska with his son Henry (Dyland Schmid), who practically worships the ground his father walks on. Wilfred's wife Arlette (Molly Park), on the other hand, hopes to sell her portion of the land, 100 acres that neighbors the 80 acres that have been in Wilfred's family for generations, to move to Omaha. While Wilfred might not want to stand in the way of his wife's motivations, were she to sell her land, it would render his land useless, which is what births his plan to kill his wife.
The patriarch plays on his son's emotions and devotion to hatch their plan to kill Arlette and cover the murder, but these treacherous actions have horrifying consequences. Wilfred might be able to give the police and salesmen the slip when they attempt to locate Arlette, but throughout the course of the film, viewers are exposed to how one horrific deed can impact someone's life for generations to come, and that not all secrets are so easily buried.
The feature film adaptations of King's work that hit theaters earlier this year contained some of the author's most ambitious themes, which helps to make 1922 feel so refreshing. The insular story features Wilfred in nearly every one of the film's gorgeous shots, helping to keep the audience grounded in this very human story. The key to holding that human story together is Jane, fully embracing the menacingly motivated Wilfred, showing both his humanity and inhumanity.
Jane is no stranger to starring in King adaptations, previously having starred in The Mist and Dreamcatcher. In both of those films, he's an "average guy" thrown into extreme situations. With 1922, on the other hand, he plays an average guy who creates that extreme situation himself, driven by his twisted sense of entitlement not just of his family's home, but of members of that family.
The film's narrative unfolds as an older Wilfred looks back on his life, allowing the character to serve as the narrator. Long before a single scene of violence unfolds on screen, Wilfred's straightforward determination to twist his son's devotion to carry out his selfish crimes instantly unsettles viewers. If Wilfred's decision to kill his wife wasn't disturbing enough, using his position of power to convince his barely teenaged son that this is what the family needs tells you everything you need to know about the character and hope for his downfall.
The narrative structure of the film, being told through Wilfred's eyes, forces the viewer to question whether what they are seeing is real or a construct of the murderer's guilt. Based on a frightening image Wilfred witnessed of rats covering his wife's body, he believes that rats follow him as representations of the past never forgetting what he's done. Anyone with even a passing familiarity of King's work will have a hard time determining whether these rats and other spectres Wilfred encounters are visions he projects or are an otherworldly threat, keeping audiences guessing right up until the film's final moments.
While not the longest Stephen King adaptation to come out this year, 1922 is one of the more deliberately paced, taking its time to develop these characters, relationships, and mental anguish both caused and suffered by Wilfred. The pacing leans far closer towards the dramatic, allowing the audience to soak in the desolate farm and difficulty of surviving frozen winters, which is sure to turn off fans looking for a more traditional horror film.
There are no creepy killer clowns or journeys into fantastical realms, but for those King fans who know nothing is more horrifying than the horrors of man, 1922 delivers a mix between There Will Be Blood and Edgar Allen Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart, featuring Jane at his darkest and most disturbing.
Rating: 4 out of 5
1922 begins streaming on Netflix October 20.