Review: 1922 – the horror of living the American Gothic nightmare

tom jane 1922

It has really been a banner year for Stephen King. The IT remake is blowing up the box office, Castle Rock is set to debut on Hulu and even though Dark Tower wasn’t a huge hit, it still made a big impression. On Netflix some of King’s smaller (but often more interesting) stories have found a home recently due to the company’s penchant for funding creatively driven,  mid-budget movies that would other wise be lost in the Hollywood shuffle. We covered Gerald’s Game earlier this month and with 1922, the Netflix/King pairing seems to have paid off again.

Synopsis: “A simple yet proud rancher in the year 1922 conspires to murder his wife for financial gain, convincing his teenage son to participate.”

1922 is led by a somewhat unrecognizable Tom Jane as Wilfred James. Jane clearly has gone to great lengths to transform himself from the normally disheveled, yet handsome heroic type we’ve seen from him in films like Deep Blue Sea and The Punisher into a terse-jawed, unsettling creepy, farmer who leads his son into temptation. Between his rural Nebraskan drawl and stiff mannerisms, Jane disappears into the murky waters of Wilfred James’ mind. His frustration with his wife (and his own uncertainty about his future) drives him to madness and eventually murder. The story becomes even more unnerving as Wilfred manipulates and leverages his son’s own naiveté into going along with the murder of his own mother. Jane portrays Wilfred in these moments as almost devilish in the way he preys on Henry’s weaknesses, whispering conspiratorial temptations into his ear. The isolated nature of living in a rural territory heightens everything for Henry, drawing her further into Wilfred’s scheme.

1922 netflix king

Dylan Schmid as Henry James in 1922.

It is that remote setting that adds to the overall terror of the film. In a time before cell phones, television and the ubiquitousness of phone lines, getting away with murder was much easier. Conversely, that middle-of-nowhere environment also lends itself to madness (think Tom Hanks in Castaway). As Wilfred’s life unravels around him after murdering his wife, his isolation only exacerbates that downward spiral into derangement. The film is paced in a way that the audience shares Wilfred’s languid restlessness and while it may be a bit too slow for some, there is an almost methodical, tortuous nature to it. The viewer is in inescapable lock-step with Wilfred’s own self-entrapment of greed and selfishness.

The looming presence of Wilfred’s wife (both in life and death), Arlette serves as the impetus for everything that transpires. Molly Parker plays Arlette as a somewhat unsympathetic figure, adding to the audience falling under Wilfred’s spell. If she were a more pure, innocent, soul – his trespass into murder wouldn’t be understood as easily. With her being more outspoken, stubborn and crass, combined with his own weakness of character, Wilfred’s decision to murder her seems almost inevitable. Like a locomotion headed right for a car stuck on the road, we can only sit on our hands and feel somewhat complicit in her death (and the impending guilt resulting from it).

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Molly Parker as Arlette.

1922 is an uncomfortable watch – as it should be. It is a Stephen King short story and in a time when films are constantly upping the body count, to see a film devote so much emotional and psychological energy to one character’s murder shows that it’s quality, not quantity that really gets the job done. The razor-sharp focus on this one character’s reaction to becoming a murderer vicariously takes the viewer through an American gothic meditation on a singular rural murder. In many ways, it plays like a longer version of something you’d see on an episode of Tales from the Crypt (known for its monkey’s paw like endings. This story could have also worked as a shorter piece in a Stephen King anthology show, but overall the longer run time adds to the psychosis that the audience experiences through Wilfred.

1922 is on Netflix now – check it out and let us know what you think on Twitter @official_FAN