The year is 1922. A gallon of gas costs $0.22. Warren G. Harding is a shitty president. Germany can’t get enough of that Nosferatu and Wilfred James has done a very bad thing. Adapted from Stephen King’s 2010 novella of the same name and written/directed for the screen by Zak Hilditch, 1922 is a Southern Gothic thriller in its purest form. Except it’s the Midwest. Nonetheless, you have murder, transgressive thoughts, desires, impulses, ghosts and corn in a brooding thriller far better than its Netflix Original trappings.
Thomas Jane plays Wilfred James a farmer living with his wife, Arlene (Molly Parker) and teen son Henry (Dylan Schmid) in Hemingford Home, Nebraska. Wilfred appreciates the simple life out in the sticks but Arlette is fed up. Arlette, who inherited the land from her father, wants to sell the farm and move to Omaha to open a dress shop. Fearful of ruining the life he has Wilfred convinces his son to assist him in murdering Arlette and hiding her body in a well.
The plan works… for a while. It doesn’t take long until the authorities and Arlette’s lawyer starts to poke around. Henry becomes paranoid, only worsened when his girlfriend Shannon (Kaitlyn Bernard) is sent away after becoming pregnant with Henry’s child. Henry begins to turn against his father’s decision as their lives deteriorate. On top of that, Wilfred’s farm and almost everywhere he goes becomes overrun with rats and visions of his dead wife.
I won’t spoil anymore but as you can imagine this isn’t the kind of film with a happy ending. The story is framed with an older and disheveled Wilfred writing his confession in a hotel, as something appears to be following him. It’s a simple thriller with touches of the supernatural driven by stylish visuals and one of the best performances of Thomas Jane’s career.
Tom “I Just Want My Kids Back” Jane disappears in this role. His look is withered and thin with a southern drawl thicker than Nana’s molasses. Yet it never feels inauthentic. For an actor, with such a macho man exterior I had no idea Jane had such depth. This dude is depressed, haunted, and altogether spooky as hell. If there’s a Horror movie equivalent to the Oscars he damn well better should have won a blood-spattered trophy for this outing.
I have two minor complaints about the film. One, it is slow. I like a slow burn but I feel you could cut a good ten minutes which leads me to my second complaint. This story is based on a novella. Now there are plenty of great King films made from even shorter stories but this particular plot feels thin for a feature. I respect that the film kept the elements simple; small cast, few locations, nothing too big, but not enough happens for this movie to be over ninety minutes.
I don’t have a lot to say about 1922. I am impressed that it’s a Netflix film considering its quality. I’m impressed by Jane. I’m impressed by writer/director Zak Hilditch who I’m not familiar with but have a newfound appreciation for. I also forgot to mention I’m a fan of the setting. The Midwest in the 1920s is a unique place for a slice of horror. Maybe you should cut a slice for yourself?