A lesser-known novella from the bestselling author lands on Netflix with a transformative performance from Thomas Jane and a mounting sense of dread
Another week, another Stephen King adaptation. Following on from The Dark Tower, It and the effectively nasty sex-game-gone-wrong thriller Geralds Game, Netflix is quietly launching a brooding take on one of his lesser-known works. The collection Full Dark, No Stars has already spawned two middling movies Big Driver with Maria Bello and A Good Marriage with Joan Allen and now, a third novella is hitting the screen with far more distinction.
Anyone looking for more of Its annoyingly relentless jump scares will find 1922 a stark disappointment, a slow-burn narrative opting to unsettle rather than thrill. But theres an unshakable menace that lingers, a tale of guilt and regret that burrows its way under the skin. Wilfred (Thomas Jane) enjoys a simple life with his family on the farm that his wife, Arlette (Molly Parker), inherited. But such a parochial lifestyle isnt what she had in mind and a plan is concocted to sell the farm and move to the city. Wilfred is firmly opposed and when Arlette announces that she will go anyway, taking their son, Henry (Dylan Schmid), he comes up with a plan of his own: to kill her.
Theres a terrifying mundanity to Wilfreds thinking, his decision to prioritize selfish desires and financial gain over his wife giving the film an instant chill and providing us with an unusual antihero. Its a challenge for a screenwriter to build a film around a man willing to murder his wife as she sleeps, but the writer-director Zak Hilditch manages to keep us grimly onboard throughout, accompanying Wilfred on his disturbing journey. One of the reasons were so compelled to stick with him is a transformative, deeply committed performance from an almost unrecognizable Thomas Jane.
Hes astonishingly good here, with depths hes previously kept hidden (or been denied the chance to showcase), and the film makes for a comfortable bedfellow with the equally bleak chiller The Mist, also starring Jane. Its all too easy to portray a character like Wilfred as a simplistic hick but Jane offers a careful, studied, serious-minded turn as a man falling over the brink and descending into madness. The horrifyingly staged murder of his wife is just the beginning, the inciting incident of the first act, and the rest of the film hinges on the devastating fallout. Whats interesting about 1922 is that the narrative isnt dependent on an external threat to Wilfreds freedom (theres little to no police involvement) but rather an internal threat to his sanity.
His guilt becomes manifest in the form of a pack of squirming, bloodthirsty rats and their scratching is one of the many tools that Hilditch uses to sustain a clammy, uneasy atmosphere as Wilfreds grasp on reality gradually falls away. The sound design in general is ferociously effective, as brutal as the so-called conniving man that lives inside of Wilfred. There are themes that King has explored before, like marital disharmony, mounting madness and toxic masculinity, but the film boasts a cruel strength of its own. Its remarkably unsentimental for the most part, which makes some final attempts to wring emotion a tad frustrating and entirely unsuccessful.
Kings stories often falter near the end and this is no exception. The finale isnt quite as convoluted and clunky as it was in Netflixs other recent adaptation, Geralds Game, but its not nearly as haunting as it could be, Hilditch choosing a more visceral representation over something that would have fallen in line with the subtlety displayed elsewhere. Its a tonally shifting piece of work that could almost be classified as a drama, if not for some skin-crawling imagery and while, for the most part, this balance is handled with skill, it doesnt pay off in the final act.
1922 remains effective thanks to Janes revelatory work and a bristling sense of dread, proving that the slow, rotting disintegration of ones psyche is far scarier than any evil clown.
- 1922 will be released on Netflix on 20 October
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