Since the considerable success of “Carrie” (1976), many of Stephen King’s novels and short stories were adapted into movies during last 41 years, but 2017 is quite an interesting year because we have no less than four feature films based on his fictions. First, there came “The Dark Tower” (2017), and then it was followed by “It” (2017), and then there came “Gerald’s Game” (2017), which was released via Netflix around the end of this September.
“1922”, which was released via Netflix in last week, is the latest film based on Stephen King’s fiction, and it is based on the novella of the same name included in “Full Dark, No Stars”, which I read several years ago. While the novella is not exactly my favorite one among the four novellas in that book (my favorite one is “Fair Extension”, which is the only one not adapted into a movie yet), I was entertained by its dark, chilling psychological horror which overwhelms its unreliable protagonist to the extreme, and it surely exemplifies King’s undeniable storytelling skill.
However, although it is mostly faithful to its source, the movie feels rather mediocre in comparsion. Besides lacking that gloomy sense of horror and suspense in the novella, the movie is considerably flat and bland in terms of story and characterization. While there are some well-made scary moments, they are not enough to hold our attention, and we only come to watch its protagonist’s predictable downward spiral without caring much about that.
Thomas Jane plays Wilfred James, a grumpy corn farmer living in a remote rural area of Nebraska, 1922. Proud of his farming work, he wants to keep his corn field for passing it down to his adolescent sone Henry (Dylan Schmid), but his wife Arlette (Molly Parker) has a different thought. Recently inheriting a considerable size of land from her dead father, she wants to sell it along with her husband’s land to some big company and then move to Omaha for a new life, but that is certainly the last thing her husband wants.
Because there is no way to prevent Arlette from selling what legally belongs to her, a certain dark temptation gradually grows in Wilfred’s mind. He decides that she must be eliminated by any means necessary, and that seems to be quite easy once he succeeds in persuading his son to join in his murderous plan. Although understandably reluctant at first, Henry agrees to help his father mainly because he does not want to be separated from his girlfriend who is the daughter of a neighbor farmer, and he becomes more willing to do that especially after he is harshly treated by Arlette at one point.
After setting an ideal situation in one evening, Wilfred and Henry eventually kill Arlette together, and everything seems to go as well as planned after that. After burying her body in a certain spot in their farm and then cleaning up the house, they lie to others that she left behind them. Although the sheriff and a lawyer representing the company are suspicious of a foul play, there is no way to prove that, and Wilfred is glad that he can still keep the land as before.
Of course, there eventually comes a sort of karmic justice as some of you have already guessed. While Wilfred tries to live as usual, he cannot help but be haunted by his crime, and there are several cringe-inducing moments involved with a bunch of rats, which keep appearing here and there after he happens to see his wife’s body covered with them. They may not be real, but Wilfred becomes agitated more and more as time goes by, and then he later finds himself facing a couple of ironic twists of life which will lead him to more misery.
This is not much of a spoiler because the movie occasionally shows Wilfred writing his confession letter alone in a hotel room several years later, and I can tell you that the second half of the movie is stark and despairing as he is pushed further into his glum desolation and madness. He surely comes to regret what he did, but he already passed the point of no return, and there is nothing he can do except going down and down to the bottom waiting for him.
This could be darkly compelling, but the movie frequently suffers from its thin characterization and weak storytelling. Not only its unlikable protagonist but also other characters surround him remain artificial archetypes, and the movie does not generate enough narrative momentum as lazily trudging down its plot. It becomes more tedious especially during its finale, and the finale seriously lacks a dramatic punch while merely disturbing us a little.
The main cast members of the movie are unfortunately stuck with their cardboard characters. Thomas Jane mostly acquits himself well, but he often goes a bit too far with his rural accent, and that can be distracting for some of you. While Molly Parker and Dylan Shmid are wasted in their respective thankless roles, Neal McDonough and Brian d’Arcy James do not have many things to do except appearing on the screen from time to time, and neither does Kaitlyn Bernard, who looks suitably fetching as Henry’s girlfriend.
Compared to what was achieved in “It” and “Gerald’s Game”, “1922” disappointing in many aspects, and it reminds me again that not every film adaptation based on King’s fiction is worthwhile to watch. It is not that awful at least, so you may watch it if you just want to kill your free time via Netflix, but I recommend you “Gerald’s Game” instead.