Movie Review : 1922 (2017)
There is something of a Stephen King renaissance in the movie business. The long-awaited adaptation of his 75,000 pages long novel It became the highest grossing horror movie in cinema history last September and Netflix' low-key Gerald's Game, * which shrewdly came out a couple weeks after It, was an unexpected kick in the fucking balls. So, there a lot Stephen King-related projects being greenlit right now, which is ironic because his film adaptations have been reputably shoddy until then.
Shoddy is not exactly the word I would use to describe Zach Hilditch's adaptation of 1922. It has a handful of genuinely freaky moments that will make you mute with horror, but I thought it was somewhat of a messy and overproduced mixed bag that doesn't quite get over the hump. Let's see what it did right and what it did wrong...
So, 1922 is the story of Wilfed James (Thomas Jane), a Nebraska corn farmer who murders his wif Arlette (Molly Parker) because she wanted out of the farm. She wanted to sell land recently inherited from her father to a neighbor and move to the city, with or without her husband, but definitely with their son Henry (Dylan Schmid). Wilfred uses his son's newfound love for his neighbor Shannon (Kaitlin Bernard) to convince him to help him do the deed. So, they kill Arlette and they're not exactly offering her a nice way out. Instead of solving their problems, it triggers an inexplicable curse that start taking over their lives.
Zach Hilditch, who wrote and directed 1922 on his own, understands what makes Stephen King's writing so special. The juxtaposition of the mundane, the unintelligible and the downright supernatural is present in this movie in a compelling way. For example, there is a scene where Wilfred and Henry try to seal the well where Arlette's body with the weight of a cow, but the lid breaks and the cow falls over Arlette, mooing her way to a painful death. This is one of these occurrences where you ask yourself: was it just a freak accident? Was it the curse? The fact that you're left without answers blurs the line between the mundane and the supernatural, just like it would for a superstitious corn farmer in the 1920s. 1922 is filled with these occurrences and never leans towards explicit answers, which makes the movie genuinely unsettling at times.
There are no major factors that undermined 1922 for me. It was several little things. First, it looks way too fucking good. Everything about that movie is so slick and doctored. The family's clothes all look brand new, the crops look super successful, their land in Nebraska looks like a piece of paradise. Even the dirt on Thomas Jane's face in certain scenes looks like it was applied by a makeup artist. The characters don't look miserable, they look like actors playing miserable people. And they don't help. They are overdirected and overdelivering, turning their parts into borderline midwestern redneck clichés. Never really been a fan of Thomas Jane, but he can barely portray his character's interiority here. Neal McDonough plays two scenes in 1922, but his game is so head and shoulders about everyone else's, he makes the rest of the cast look silly.
So, there you have it. 1922 has an awesome story/screenplay and a half-baked direction, making it somewhat of a mixed bag. It looks a little bit like a Marilyn Manson video: it tries really hard to scare you, but it's way too slick and overproduced to portray any sense of danger. There are gruesome and haunting scenes to it, but some of their power is stripped by the ridiculousness of the characters delivery and the ridiculously good-looking setting. Stephen King's writing will make just almost anything work, even if the execution is wonky and overdone, so 1922 is enjoyable somewhat, it just never quite works the way it should. It's a decent horror movie when it had the potential to be terrific.
* I mistakenly wrote Gerald's Gay while typing the movie name. That would be a great porn off-shoot.