As mentioned in my recent review of Gerald’s Game, it has been a huge year for Stephen King. With the release of other titles like The Dark Tower, It, Mr Mercedes and the upcoming Castle Rock television series, it is arguably the most prolific year of his career in terms of adaptations.
The latest offering is 1922, based on a novella from King’s anthology book Full Dark, No Stars. The plot follows a down-trodden Nebraskan corn farmer, Wilfred (Thomas Jane), who plots the murder of his wife (Molly Parker) and manipulates his son, Henry (Dylan Schmid), to help. The land’s title is in the wife’s name and she wants to sell up and move to the city, but when Wilfred and Henry refuse to leave… they ply her with alcohol and hack her to death in her sleep.
There are no spoilers in that synopsis; in fact, the film opens with Wilfred’s confession. And so 1922 is focused on the aftermath and the events that follow, such as the emotional, psychological and physical toll that the crime has on this father and son.
1922 is thematically heavy handed and might just be the most sombre of the King films this year. However, it is also, quite possibly, the least effective adaptation of the lot, proving to be a taxing watch. While the story does adhere to King’s novella (for the most part), it meanders and takes far too long to unfold. The sparse cornfields and the uninteresting depiction of farm-life lend the story a dull atmosphere where nothing of interest happens outside of the house, and yet when the drama does unfold inside, we are faced with an emotionless dynamic of characters, devoid of interest, requiring no investment from the viewer.
Jane’s performance is unacceptably feigned, and for the first act his Mid-Western American accent comes across as caricatured. His flimsy attempt at a hardened gruff “man of the land” seems more like a parody of an Ernest P Worrell movie, and it isn’t until midway into the film that we are forced to accept his stodgy acting in order to engage with the story at hand. It’s such a shame, too, because Jane is otherwise one of the more underrated actors around. The supporting cast fare much better with Parker bringing the drama back down to a consumable level, and young Schmid counteracting Jane’s performance with a much more rounded turn.
This is yet another Netflix Original and, as proven countless times, their commitment to handsome-looking content is undeniable. And despite the uninteresting exterior shots of farmlands, the interior cinematography is wonderful. Australian Director Zak Hilditch has already proven himself to be an accomplished filmmaker, and his visual acuity for genre storytelling is strong. It is therefore unfortunate that 1922 was the project he was offered (or chose) following his impressive apocalyptic thriller These Final Hours.
The benefit of 1922 being a Netflix film is that subscribers to the platform won’t be out of pocket, and they might as well give it a look regardless. I have seen it once, and that’s more than enough for me. I highly doubt I will ever return for seconds, as I’m sure will be the overwhelming sentiment amongst others.