Farm-y of Darkness.
1922 debuts exclusively on Netflix on October 20th.
If movies have taught us anything it’s that no good murder goes unpunished. It doesn’t matter how clever your scheme is or how righteous you think you are. If you kill somebody, your uppance will come, and it will probably be as ironic as hell.
1922 is Netflix’s second Stephen King adaptation in as many months (Gerald’s Game was the other), and it fits tidily into the tried-and-true moral murder mold. It’s a solemn, disturbing drama about farmer Wilfred James, played by Thomas Jane with a voice that sounds like a low gear combine in desperate need of tuning. His wife Arlette (Molly Parker) is getting big ideas about independence. She wants to sell the farm and move to the city, and if Wilf isn’t up for it, she wants to get a divorce, open a dress shop, and take their teenaged son, Henry (Dylan Scmid), with her.
But of course, it’s 1922 – the movie, and the year – and Wilf’s pride is only sustained by three fragile prongs: his land, his son and his fantasy of a subservient wife. That’s all he wants, and all he thinks he could hope for. If Arlette wants to take away all three, then Wilf decides that Arlette has got to go, which of course sends him and his son on a path to ruination.
Zak Hilditch adapted the screenplay for 1922 and directed it himself. He’s got a strong eye for emotional and physical desolation. The James farm only feels warm in moments when it’s filmed through the filter of shoddy memory. This is an ugly place, heaped with resentments, even before Wilf convinces Henry to help him murder Arlette, dispose of the body, and pretend there are no such things as consequences.
It’s almost hard to tell whether Thomas Jane is giving a great performance here, or if he’s just doing a very thick accent. Maybe he’s trying to transform himself but he’s always excelled at blue collar roles, playing masculine types who are tormented by their private sentiments. It’s a good role, he works it well, but we’re so familiar with his work in films like The Mist and The Punisher that it’s distracting to see him experiment with capital-a “Acting”, especially in a role that doesn’t really require him to leave his wheelhouse.
The problem with 1922, though, isn’t the performances. It isn’t even the directing. It’s that these types of stories – about murderers who realize that they probably shouldn’t have murdered anybody – aren’t just old hats, they’re moth-eaten hats. The story of 1922 never distinguishes itself as a tale that desperately needs to be added to the pile of other, similar tales, and especially not against a feature-length backdrop, which implies a certain level of importance that Hilditch’s film can’t reach.
Maybe this would have been a great episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, but as a film, it feels too small for its own good. 1922’s scope is so boxed in that can’t seem to reach beyond the minor tragedy of the James family. Early on it brushes against themes of early 20th century proto-feminism, as a historical saga about men getting rid of a woman they view as an obstacle, realizing too late their horrible mistake. But that idea gets dropped quickly in favor of a slowly paced, formulaic retread of Poe’s The Black Cat, crossed – in a particularly gruesome fashion – with Lovecraft’s The Rats in the Walls. (Both of which you could read in less than the time it takes to watch 1922, and both of which are more dynamic and disturbing stories.)