Another day, another Stephen King adaptation. This time, the short story, 1922, gets the treatment. Originally published in the collection, Full Dark, No Stars in 2010, 1922 is a novella that focuses on the confession of Wilfred James. Told from Wilfred’s perspective as he writes his confession, we hear how he murdered his wife in 1922.
I have mentioned before how I think that the vast majority of successful King adaptations come from adapting a short story so I am hopeful for this one. I remember the book version well and am interested to see how it turns out. It is a very grim, cold and guilt ridden story and it falls on Australian director Zak Hilditch (These Final Hours, Transmission) to bring it to life.
Wilfred James is played excellently by Thomas Jane. A farmer with leathered, worked skin and a really heavy Southern accent. He lives on a remote farm with his wife, Arlette, who is played by Molly Parker. Arlette is unhappy though. She is definitely not cut out for the country life and dreams of returning to the city. She would be happy to return alone too showing how far apart she has grown from her husband. They do have one thing that keeps them together and that is their son. 14 year old Henry who is played by Dylan Schmid.
The main plot comes from some land that Arlette has recently inherited from her father. She wants to sell that land to a livestock company and use the money to set up shop in the city. Wilfred wants to keep the land and turn their small farm into something he can leave his impressionable son. From this we get to see the desperate and despicable lengths a man will go to in order to preserve his way of life. It starts with Henry’s first and current love. A local girl called Shannon, played by Kaitlyn Bernard. Wilf explains to his son how his mother is going to take him away from Shannon forever.
Young impressionable Henry is upset and Wilfred uses this to convince him that they need to murder his mother. Henry takes a little convincing but his young lovesick heart eventually agrees. To forge the opportunity, Wilf pretends that he has agreed to sell the land and move to the city. This gives Arlette reason to celebrate which sees her get very drunk. Wilf carries her up to bed – how kind. Somewhat haphazardly, Wilf and Henry take this opportunity to kill their wife/mother. Even more despicably, Wilf tries to persuade Henry to do it all but as it starts to go wrong, steps in and slits her throat. They clean the house, dump the body in a well along with one of their cows and board the thing up. Finally they fabricate their story of how Arlette ran away and left them.
As time goes by, Wilf and Henry are growing more distant with Henry feeling bitterness towards his father. On top of that, the rotting bodies in the well have also brought an infestation of rats. These act as a physical reminder of what Wilf did and you can see he is a breaking, or broken, man being devoured by guilt. Keep in mind that this story is told through flashbacks while Wilf writes a letter in a hotel room.
Because of that, the notion of passing time is hard to follow but we do see that Henry and Shannon are now on the run together. Henry’s early crime has seen him turn to a life of crime. He and Shannon, known as The Sweetheart Bandits are running the length of the country committing crimes. We also find out that Shannon is pregnant. For now. Not long after, while trying to escape from one particular crime scene she gets shot and loses the baby. Not long after, she dies too. Henry then follows and ends his own life.
Wilf, who was already alone, is now definitely alone. He can clearly see how his actions led to all of this and he hates himself for it. To make matters worse, the rats are still coming. Henry’s body gets delivered to Wilf and he is shocked to see it is infested with rats. One of which bites him. You can clearly see now that the rats, while real, are more than just a local pest infestation. Not long after Wilf loses his hand and, a broken and defeated man, tries to sell the land he so desperately fought for. Almost to make amends, though it doesn’t, he moves to the city but is forever haunted by visions of rats.
Many years later and we are back in the hotel room with Wilf where the rats have returned en masse. He finishes his letter, turns around to be faced with the rotting corpses of his wife and son one last time.
1922 has a lot going for it. The film is a simple tale of why you shouldn’t commit murder and the effect it has on your own mental state and that of the people you involved. It shows a man utterly consumed by guilt and the colourless, grey farm and scenery along with some really good music pushes that feeling out on to you as well. The music was put together by the legend that is Mike Patton of Faith No More which may explain why it was so good.
Thomas Jane plays Wilfred brilliantly and is very convincing. Everybody else did fine but this film is 90% Thomas so his performance mattered. Even if I struggled to understand his thick accent clearly. There is some horrific imagery as the tale closes and if you don’t like rats, you should probably avoid this.
There are plenty of faults though too. Some parts of the film are just overly drawn out and are boring. The characters are all pretty despicable too. Wilf is horrific really. What sort of person decides that the only way out of an issue is to murder his wife and convince his 14 year old son to help? Arlette, however, is a bit of a bitch too so you don’t sympathise too much. As for Henry, he is 14, not 4. Surely he can see that killing his own mother isn’t the right thing to do? It becomes a film that is good to watch but you kind of hope they all die anyway.
Finally, there are some serious questions and holes in the story. Why Wilfred chose murder? Why he didn’t kill her himself, dump the body and tell his son she ran away? As for Henry, why, at 14, was he so easily convinced when he appeared to have a good relationship with his mother? Why didn’t Wilf kill himself when he was so obviously ready to die? What did he do in the city for a few years before he ended up in the hotel?
Some faults with the story. Yes. 1922 is well worth a watch though. It is grim and grimy. There is some great imagery and some top notch acting. Did I mention the music was awesome too? Just don’t expect to be fully at peace with the logic of the story though.
Horror Movie Review - 1922