What is 1922?
In this adaptation of the Stephen King story, from the Full Dark, No Stars collection, Thomas Jane plays Wilfred James, a farmer frustrated by his wife Arlette’s ambition and plans to move to the city. So Wilfred murders Arlette in cold blood and buries her on the land. But fear and guilt start to eat away at him, slowly driving Wilfred mad.
A Dark Tale
In 1922, Thomas Jane’s Wilfred informs us via voiceover, “A man’s pride was a man’s land. And so was his son.” Which is fitting, as it’s pride, and his son, and the land on which they live that are ultimately Wilfred’s undoing.
It’s a dark story. And one that’s been told many times before, in the Bible, in myths and fables, and in a thousand TV movies. But this is an adaptation of Stephen King’s take on uxoricide, meaning it’s a particularly nasty version.
Wilfred may have once loved his wife Arlette, but that love has now turned into hate, precipitated by her inheriting 100 acres of land, and desiring to leave it behind in favour of a life in the city.
This goes against everything Wilfred believes. He’s a farmer, from farming stock, his own 80 acres being passed down to him by his father, with plans to one day pass them onto his son. He also believes “cities are for fools.”
The pair are therefore at a pretty serious crossroads. Arlette suggests divorce, offering to sell the land and split the proceeds. But she also wants to keep their boy Henry. Which is simply unacceptable to Wilfred, pride preventing him from even entertaining the notion.
And so Wilfred decides to murder Arlette, roping in young Henry, killing her in the bed they share, and throwing the body down the well on their land. But the rats eating the remains of her carcass are far from the last we’ve seen of Arlette.
Guilt and Paranoia
In spite of the fact that this is Stephen King material, 1922 isn’t a supernatural story of a victim returning from the dead to wreak revenge on the living. Here, the horror is the guilt and paranoia that slowly drives Wilfred mad. But that story just isn’t interesting enough. Everything you expect Wilfred to say and do, he does, making 1922 far too predictable.
It’s also relentlessly grim. Which is fine as the story is hardly the stuff of joy and laughter. But a brief montage — focusing on Henry’s journey post-murder — is terrific, injecting life into proceedings, and putting the rest of the film to shame. It also tells a tale that’s more interesting than the one we’re forced to return to.
Thomas Jane is near unrecognisable in the lead role, his Wilfred a million miles away from the likeable everymen he played in past Stephen King adaptations Dreamcatcher and The Mist. Here, he’s less a man, and more a clenched fist, his perma-squint and gritted teeth hinting at the rage bubbling beneath his surface. And it’s an effective performance.
But unlike the book, we never truly get inside his head over the course of proceedings. We hear his inner monologue via that aforementioned voiceover, with Wilfred narrating events from a hotel room. But we never get a sense of what truly makes him tick, making for a psychological study that fails to capture the essence of its subject.
1922 looks nice, capturing the beauty of the Nebraskan countryside in the summer, and the harsh cruelty of its winters when the proverbial hits the fan. And it sounds good, queasy strings perfectly complementing the unpleasant images onscreen. But sharp pictures and sounds just aren’t enough in a film that falls frustratingly flat.
Is 1922 Good?
1922 is based on a Stephen King novella that’s just over 100 pages long. And that’s one of the film’s major problems, the slight story stretched over 100-minutes when it might have been better served as a short.
The film is well crafted, with writer-director Zak Hilditch maintaining a downbeat tone that’s in-keeping with the themes being explored. And it’s well acted, with Thomas Jane solid in the lead, and Neal McDonough lending quality support in a small but important role.
But ultimately, 1922 is a thriller that lacks tension, and a horror film that lacks scares. Making for a frustrating viewing experience that’s uninspired, predictable, and just a little bit dull.