1922: King’s historical tragedy is as much Grapes of Wrath as it is Children of the Corn
Add the Netflix original 1922 to the list of films many viewers might not immediately associate with King.
Most of the “posters” I’ve seen for the film feature nothing more than lead actor Thomas Jane - who also starred in the film adaptation of King’s The Mist - as farmer Wilfred James in a pair of ragged overalls in the middle of a corn field.
Oh, by the way, if you look close, there’s literally blood on his hands.
But most casual observers, I think, will nonetheless be put more in mind of The Grapes of Wrath than Children of the Corn. Which, on many levels, would be an apt assessment. Thus, sans killer clowns or vengeful, self-animated machines, this would appear to be tame territory for fans of category horror films.
Except it isn’t.
The plot involves a particularly bloody and gruesome matricide, and there are scenes with ghosts, mangled corpses and flesh-eating rats. Oh my, are there rats. Simply put, this film is not good for someone with a rat phobia.
Another exercise in how much attention we pay to the credits: I had to go look up the director just now, and I confess I have not seen a single other film by Zach Hilditch.
Which makes 1922 feel like even more of a success to me. This looks like Hilditch’s sixth or seventh film, but probably only his second or third non-indie and quite a departure from his other stuff.
First of all it’s a period piece, a tragedy in the classic literary and stage tradition with quiet undertones despite the moments of murder and mayhem. The cast and locations aren’t very big, and there’s a lot of introspection and psychology going on between the rats and harbingers of doom.
The film looks as bleak as its content. The tone of the film is a sort of relentless, dark, muddy gray - even when the sun’s out, the main farm house is dingy and unpainted, the clothes are faded, Thomas’ body is oily with sweat and his face is dour, lumpen and unanimated despite a sort of undeniable intelligence buried deep in there. The only presence with a hint of color and verve is Molly Parker’s Arlette, and her light is, of course, the one that’s snuffed out relatively early in the film. Her murder is the act that brings about the descent into darkness.
King’s experiencing something of a revival in film right now - lots of successful, quality adaptations. While success has usually accompanied his name, the quality hasn't always. King’s over-the-top monsters and serial killers can be fun, and many studios are happy to churn out cheesy boogiemen that earn out at least a little over their budget before they quikly fade like the thrill of a cheap jump scare, but kudos to Netflix for taking risks on his more literary, obscure works, like this one and Gerald’s Game.
C. Dennis Moore
But when Wilfred James’s wife, Arlette (Molly Parker, THE WICKER MAN), wants to sell off part of that land--to be fair, the part she wants to sell belongs to her, willed to her by her father--and move to Omaha, Wilfred (Thomas Jane, THE MIST) convinces his son Hank (Dylan Schmid, “Once Upon a Time”) there’s only one way to insure the livelihood of their farm and family. And since Hank is sweet on neighbor Shannon, moving away from Hemingford Home is the last thing he wants as well. So into the well Arlette must go.
Seems like a simple enough plan, kill the wife to keep from having to give up the only life you know or want. But in “1922”, based on the novella of the same name by Stephen King, a simple enough plan is usually anything but.
I won’t go into the details about just how terribly Wilfred has to pay for his sin, but this is not a movie for the squeamish, especially if RATS are your big bugaboo.
Suffice it to say, writer/director Zak Hilditch captures the heart of what made the King story such an effective read. The harsh conditions of life on a rural farm, the paranoia and dread that creeps into Wilfred’s mind as he start his downward spiral. And this Ben Richardson kid, the cinematographer, what an eye he’s got. Seriously, between this movie, GERALD’S GAME, and IT, right now is a great time to be a fan of Stephen King movies. They’re doing some beautiful work lately.
For me, though, the real star of this movie is Thomas Jane. I’ve always been a big fan (he was married to Patricia Arquette and starring in Marvel movies before starring in Marvel movies was cool, so he’s got good taste), and I’ve seen him play the dark and brooding character (THE PUNISHER) as well as the light, happy go lucky character (THE SWEETEST THING), and this isn’t his first King adaptation, but man what a difference the project can make. The less said about DREAMCATCHER the better, but his turn in THE MIST was a good performance, but in the end he’s just a guy playing a guy. This time, though, he really loses himself in Wilfred James. From his mannerisms to his speech, even his physical appearance. Just check out the poster for it, and tell me you knew right away that was Thomas Jane.
Jane carries this movie from the first frame to the last, and he carries it like a champ. Molly Parker, for her small role, brings many things to it as well. Light in the beginning, quickly dulling to a shadow of menace early on, but her later appearances are downright chilling. And I don’t chill easily.
When I first started it, I thought this had the looks of a slow burn movie, something I’d end up watching with one eye while the other surfed my phone. But that quickly turned out not to be the case and I barely touched my phone at all except to look up something real quick, an actor’s name or the director, something movie-related. Instead of a slow burn, it’s just one of those movies that, even when there’s no real action on the screen, it’s so damn well made you don’t want to turn away. And that’s amazing, because my first reaction when I heard this was going to be a movie was, “Well, that’ll be another quicky piece of crap they knock out in a week and toss a title card on.”
WRONG. Hilditch isn’t just a guy who makes movies, he’s a filmmaker, a serious director making serious art.
IS this movie art? I’m not sure about that, but he has a huge respect for both the original story and the process of adapting it to the screen. This isn’t just another job for him, he had a passion for this story and the movie that came from it, and that passion shines through.
Turn off the lights and silence your phone and sit back to a Netflix double feature of this movie and GERALD’S GAME and that will be a night very well spent.