If you’re on Netflix during this lead up to Halloween looking to take a chance on watching something that won’t be terrible, 1922 is a very safe bet. 1922 is the last of Netflix’s original horror fare to be released in October, sliding in rather quietly amongst the slew of other films getting much more critical acclaim and word of mouth buzz. It also marks the last of the many Stephen King adaptations to come out this year. It’s been the year of Stephen King, and you better believe you’re going to be seeing more of his stuff in the coming years due to the financial and critical success of these adaptations. Some of these adaptations have certainly been better than others, and 1922 has found a nice little place right smack dab in the middle of all of them, right on the “as good as it needs to be” shelf.
The film is a very standard murder story and familiar “crime doesn’t pay” fable. In the year 1922, Wilfred James (Thomas Jane), a farmer with a thick drawl, lives and works on his decently successful farm in Nebraska with his wife (Molly Parker) and son (Dylan Schmid). The farm has been in his family for generations, passed down the patriarchal lineage, and he wishes to do the same with his son, Henry. His wife, Arlette James, has grown tired and frustrated with life on the farm and wishes to sell their land and move to the city. Wilfred, being a prideful curmudgeon, thinks the city is for fools and wishes to continue down the same path his family has been following and ultimately have his farm destroyed by the Dust Bowl within the decade. However, half of the farmland belongs to his wife (she got it from her dead father) and she’s so set on moving to the city that she plans on divorcing Wilfred, selling her land, and taking Henry to the city with her. Wilfred refuses to let this happen and he connives with his son to murder Arlette.
The rest of the movie plays out in a manner you have definitely seen before. Crime is planned, crime is committed, criminals are briefly at ease, people start snooping and criminals almost get caught, guilt and stress of not getting caught becomes overwhelming, shit blows up in their faces. It’s a very classic plot in Victorian literature and film noir (there’s even consistent voice-over by Wilfred throughout the whole movie), and it’s not surprising that King cranked out a decent novella based on this premise. I guess the only problem with this is that there is no attempt to do anything new or different with it. For better or for worse, it plays out exactly how you think it’ll play out. It’s not a bad story, nor is it botched in any way in the adaptation, it’s just sort of remarkable how unremarkable it is. Thankfully I remained emotionally invested in what was happening, which was aided in no small part by great performances backing the well-written characters, across the board. Even the side characters manage to stand out on their own, as their relationships to Wilfred and Henry and their performances make them memorable parts of the story while giving further development and motivation to the main characters.
The film seems to faithfully stick to King’s story, but it ends up making the plot really drag in some places. It’s only a short story, so on paper you can easily envision the details that aren’t plainly written out and it’s as well-paced as it needs to be. You can tell that director Zak Hilditch was going for a slow suspenseful mood, and this works for the most part, but by nature of having the story set on a Nebraska farm there isn’t a whole lot going on and you can start to see the ways in which the movie is padded. Like I said before, it helps that the performances are so great because this is a movie carried by its actors. This could make for a decent play, but thankfully some good cinematography and a few legitimately creepy visuals here and there still makes this a worthwhile movie.
All things considered, I would definitely tell people to check out 1922. The setting might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a good story that is well executed cinematically – in other words, what every movie should strive for. It’s a very familiar premise, sure, but there are enough turns in the story to make the movie not feel cliche, and I ended up with a satisfying emotional experience. It’s a good enough note to end this year of Stephen King adaptations on, and hopefully those tackling his other works in the future take cues from this film.
1922 is a very familiar Victorian/film noir premise that is executed as well as it needs to be. It sticks to King’s well written story faithfully, allowing the characters to move the story forward and having the performances behind them draw you in emotionally. While it’s a bit too slow and not terribly suspenseful, there are enough creepy visuals and interesting shots to keep you from getting bored. All in all, a good enough film about murder to round out October.