“I believe there’s another man inside every man – a stranger, a conniving man”. This early line of dialogue in Zak Hilditch’s “1922” sets the table for this simmering psychological horror-thriller. It taps into the mentality of the film’s fascinating lead character and lays the parameters for the mental chaos that follows.
You could call 2017 the year of the Stephen King adaptations. “It” stands as one of the top grossing movies of the year. “The Dark Tower” not so much. Then came the Netflix originals – “Gerald’s Game” and now “1922” which is based on 117 page short story published by King in 2010.
The story begins with a grizzled man writing what he calls his confession. The man’s name is Wilfred James (played by Thomas Jane in an eye-opening performance). He is a farmer from Hemingford Home, Nebraska and as he writes it becomes clear he is mentally frail and devoured by guilt. The bulk of the story is framed by his confession which takes us back via flashback to the events which led to his current state.
Wilfred’s farm consists of 80 acres passed down to him by his family. (In one very telling line he writes “In 1922 a man’s pride was his land”). His wife Arlette (Molly Parker) owns 100 acres of adjacent land willed to her by her father. She’s grown dissatisfied with farm life and wants Wilfred to sell their land and move to Omaha where she can pursue her dream of opening a big city dress shop. The tension between their perspectives becomes obvious and their teenaged son Henry (Dylan Schmid) finds himself caught in the middle.
“The conniving man” within Wilfred devises a plan to kill Arlette and manipulates Henry into helping by exploiting his son’s affections for a neighbor’s young daughter. In Wilfred’s mind he can cover every angle to keep his crime hidden. In another revealing line he writes “In those days a man’s wife was a man’s business”. But Wilfred can’t perceive every consequence of his actions much less how they will effect both him and Henry. And he certainly doesn’t anticipate the weight of guilt that pushes him closer to his breaking point.
Hilditch’s direction is a wonderful compliment to King’s biggest storytelling strengths – developing slow-burning tension and eerie, uneasy moods. “1922” leans heavily on atmosphere which is captured through Ben Richardson’s crafty camera and Mike Patton’s haunting score. Hilditch shrewdly utilizes both to suck us into this twisted nightmare of Wilfred’s own making.
But the biggest strength of the film lies in Thomas Jane’s standout performance. His stunning portrayal seems yanked right out of early 20th century middle America. Jane’s weathered, tanned face reveals a man who works the earth. But several other touches help give this character life. It could be something as simply as a squint of his eye or a draw of his mouth. It’s seen in his handling of small town period vernacular and his distinctive enunciations. It’s mesmerizing work that shouldn’t go unseen.
“1922” is a movie that gets under your skin. It maintains a menacing vibe from start to finish without ever relying on overused gimmicks or formulas. It may be a tad too slow for some, but its steady sense of discomfort and dread had me hooked. And then you have Jane who loses himself in the lead role and delivers a transformative authenticity that results in a character who is both disturbing and spellbinding. He’s very good as is this movie which nicely blends classic King with a nice touch of Hitchcock. That’s a really good recipe.
VERDICT – 4.5 STARS