Not only has 2017 been a banner year for the horror genre, it has been an especially good one for adaptations of Stephen King’s work: It, Gerald’s Game, Mr. Mercedes and now 1922 (available on Netflix as of October 20). I haven’t read the novella the movie is based on, but I’ve heard it stays fairly faithful to the source material. (I didn’t forget about The Dark Tower and The Mist, but those offerings weren’t well received.)
1922 is a Gothic horror tale set in the heartland of America – Nebraska, to be precise. I’m a long-time fan of Thomas Jane (Hung, The Expanse, Dreamcatcher), who stars as farmer Wilfred James.
At first I didn’t recognize him in the role – and I certainly didn’t recognize his voice. He constantly squints and speaks with an antiquated drawl which made understanding some of the dialogue a bit difficult. I found myself wishing he had skipped using the authentic accent of the place and time period, but his portrayal is impressive despite that distraction.
Now to the story…with some spoilers.
Wilfred lives with his wife, Arlene (Molly Parker), and their fourteen-year-old son, Henry (Dylan Schmid), on the family farm, barely eking out a living. Life is hard, but Wilfred refuses to consider moving to the city. When Arlene inherits 100 acres from her late father, she is determined to sell the land, divorce Wilfred, and move to Omaha or St. Louis with Henry. Wilfred tries to change her mind – he doesn’t want to lose the land or his son. When Arlene won’t be swayed to his way of thinking, he comes up with a plan to kill her and involve his son in the murder so the boy will keep quiet and stay tied to his birthright. Gaining Henry’s support becomes easier when he falls for the neighbor’s teenage daughter, and his mother makes it clear he will be forced to move away when she leaves his father.
Henry suggests they smother Arlene, but Wilfred believes that would take too long and be too painful. Murdering a person is harder than they thought it would be – especially when it’s someone you used to love. When they are finished, the bedroom is a gory mess. The empty well in the backyard becomes Arlene’s (somewhat) final resting place. (I’m really not too fond of the doomed cow scene, but it’s a clever way to find an excuse to fill the well and cover up the evidence – and the rats.)
After the dirty deed is done, the two partners in crime enjoy a profitable summer. But guilt is already eating at them both. Wilfred has come up with a solid cover story – saying Arlene took a suitcase and ran off in the middle of the night, presumably to be with someone else. After a short investigation, the local lawman is convinced.
They should be in the clear, but every once in a while, Wilfred thinks he sees Arlene around the property, staring at him accusingly, her cut throat still bleeding. Things go from bad to worse late in the fall when the money runs out and Henry gets his girlfriend pregnant. The two lovebirds run away together to keep her father from sending her to a convent. Wilfred faces the winter alone, with a home and barn sorely in need of repairs.
1922 progresses at a slow burn across a bleak landscape – regret and the consequences of sin play out gradually with Wilfred’s grim narration. Is Arlene’s return a guilt-induced hallucination? What about the rats that constantly torment him? The one time that Arlene speaks, does she actually reveal the tragic fate of their son?
“She told me secrets only a dead woman could know.”
Guilt is a poison, and Wilfred is a haunted man who is forced to leave the farm he sacrificed so much to keep. Ghosts – and his own demons – keep him on the run.
“You always get caught,” he writes in his confession.
(And if you’re lucky, justice will be meted out by law enforcement.)
I’m willing to give 1922 three and a half out of five goblins.
Back to Stephen King…I’m currently reading his latest novel, “Sleeping Beauties” – co-written with his son, Owen. My next blog post will be a review of that effort. (Yes, I’m enjoying the opus so far.)