A foreboding inner-demons/ghost story in unmistakably Kingian-suspense complete with stunning Omaha-farm setting, screen-stealing central Tom Jane performance, novel-in-motion feel, and disturbing psychological torment. 6.7/10.
Plot Synopsis: Omaha, NB. 1922: A rancher conspires to murder his wife for financial gain and convinces his teenage son to participate.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
“In 1922, a man’s pride was his land.. and his son.” A renaissance of Stephen King novel/novella-based films is upon us – and there is little reason to be anything but delighted at the prospect. It (Chapters I-II), Doctor Sleep, Pet Sematary, Gerald’s Game, The Dark Tower, A Good Marriage, Cell, 1922, etc.; while not all of them are bonafide home runs, it’s a rarified treat to see a single (prolific) writer’s work flourish so astonishingly in getting big-screen adaptations and most of them succeed in their overarching tonal goal: delivering chills. In comes 1922, one of King’s comparatively-lesser known but arguably most endearing and startling works given a fine cinematic run by Netflix: An effectively-foreboding inner-demons/ghost story in unmistakably Kingian-suspense with a stunning Omaha-farm setting, screen-stealing central Tom Jane performance, novel-in-motion feel, and disturbing psychological torment.
The period-authentic stylism. What’s most striking from its first stream-set frame is the inimitable attention to detail in set design, costume design, and aura. Everything from big Buick/Cadillac automobiles and Model T’s to massive-sign pharmacies to sundresses on its *stunning* cellphone-less Omaha sunset-hued cornfield-loaded farmland porch drinking tea without a care in the world, the film delivers a rarified treat in nostalgic escapism deserving transportive praise in visual cues. It mirrors this period authenticity ideologically retreading industrial revolutionary tenets and debates like cities vs. country and farms vs. factories for a phenomenal trip back through the annals of American history that feels comfortable without being post factum.
Novella-feel with a great anchor performance & ominous atmospherics. The film also succeeds in feeling like a novel-in-motion through and through in everything from shot constructions to camera-panning styles to overall-crispness in feel with narration overtones led by its strong Tom Jane lead performance. He anchors the film supplying a *perfect* old-time farmer-with-a-dark-side take with painstaking method-acting and just the right touches from his spot-on Nebraskan accent to split-personality, cognitively-dissonant obsession with land, status, and son. The rest of the performances are serviceable too (except Arlette as I’ll address later), but none compare to Jane’s lead far and away the highlight of the film as things go from normal to weird to cursed as it rolls. Director Zak Hilditch gets the slow-burning dark nuances of the Stephen King-verse perfectly with impressive escalation of suspense and macabre boosted by some sadistic shots and squealing violin-scratchy cascading orchestral themes coalescing to nail us with the disturbing psychological esoterica to follow.
The scares and broken family portrait, broken further. The back-half sees things start to get psychosocially-wild as Wilf is (thoroughly) haunted and hunted by shaving off pieces of his psyche little-by-little thanks to a spiritual-realm Arnette with a dark trip bent on seeing him suffer from the great beyond. As “conniving” as the alter-ego he claims convinced him to act so darkly in the first place in sending her there, the horror she supplies is (thankfully) not physical, manifested slasher movie jumps coming right at you quick and fast; it lurks in the shadows, attacking and dissecting everything our protagonist finds important on a cellular level to destruct him from the inside and make him beg for death. Wilf’s penchant and well-established obsessions with land, status, and son are all flipped one-by-one by the powers at work (through a rat-motif/symbolism that will absolutely destroy anyone with animalistic phobias and is objectively terrifying – watching pear-sized rats exit Arlette’s esophageal tract, leave amputatable infections in man’s hands, and eat out eyes and innards. Holy moly.). From behind-the-scenes, Arlette haunts and kills his ability to work on and enjoy his land he committed such unspeakable acts to attain by way of his lost hand, status with his son turning to crime and getting famous for all the wrong reasons disgracing the family name, and son having bad (possibly-controlled) luck put him, his wife, & Wilf’s grandchild in early snow-capped graves in this backwoods tale of traditions, fake-holiness, revenge, and eventual inevitable retribution.
Flaws include a mismatched Arlette casting and delay of macabre until the third act. Molly Parker is horribly-miscast as Arlette not nearly playing into the period or seemingly trying to fit as well as the other actors/actresses on screen. She should have to sincerely apologize to her fellow castmates for such a half-hearted turn that sticks out like a sore thumb and takes away from the illusion/escapist fare. She doesn’t even try to fake an accent in several scenes feeling like a round peg being forced into a square outline likely by a leftover Netflix contract-clause from House of Cards she was much better suited-for as a far easier role not out of her depth here (Arlette is also extremely unlikeable in writing refusing to even consider compromising to meet the desires of her husband and son both against moving to the city..). Also, while the macabre is *great* in the third act, I wish it was less flushed-out all at once and instead teased throughout the film in little teases to make a more even-scare product overall.
Overall, 1922 is a comparatively-good adaptation film for Netflix and the King-verse getting the most important thing right: his signature subtle/nuanced dark atmosphere. An effectively-foreboding inner-demons/ghost story in unmistakably Kingian-suspense with a stunning Omaha-farm setting, screen-stealing central Tom Jane performance, novel-in-motion feel, and disturbing psychological torment, 1922 is a nice slow-burn with enough chills to supply a bloody-good time watching (comfortably streamed) from the sanctity of your couch.
Official CLC Score: 6.7/10