‘Til Death . . . (Film Review: “1922”)

From the mind of Stephen King, a Depression-era rural tragedy that begs the question: can Vengeance outlive Death?

SnapShot Plot

Yes, 2020 has been the scariest year ever but holidays are still on the calendar. And although we may not have trick or treated in a conventional sense, we should still allow ourselves to be scared silly with our choice of Halloween weekend entertainment. Netflix has a ton of streaming titles available in the Horror genre but if you’re like me, you prefer the hair on the back of your neck to stand up from a more cerebral sense of dread than the spectacle of some backwoods ‘crazy’ wielding a chainsaw.

In 1922, the story opens with a hunted-looking man (we soon come to know as Wilfred James) who holes up in a boarding house and commences to write a confession. In blunt terms he gets right to the point, acknowledging the murder of his wife, Arlette, with the verbal narration of his letter as the narrative vehicle for the plot to unfold in flashback. The gist of it is almost refreshingly straightforward, a motive as old as dirt.

The James family (made up of Wilfred, Arlette and their teenaged son, Henry) live on an isolated rural farmstead in Nebraska. Their main crop is corn with a growing secondary animus between husband and wife, seething below the surface of their daily activities. Arlette, (played with convincing sourness by Molly Parker) has never taken to farm life and wants to sell the large swath of acreage she’s inherited to a farming conglomerate. With the money from the sale, her idea is to split it evenly with Wilfred, get a divorce and start over in Omaha with a little dress shop of her own. The only catch? Henry would go with her. Wilfred (whose portrayal by Thomas Jane is both hypnotic and somewhat infuriating) will have none of it. He has no need for the company of others and has determined that ‘city life’ is morally degenerate and he must save his son from that ruin. He has also come to the abrupt conclusion that he hates his wife, and so he quickly sets about to brainwash Henry against his mother. Why? Because he’s decided she’s got to be destroyed and he needs a willing accomplice in his son to help with the ‘heavy lifting’, someone he trusts will never spill the beans.

In an act of murderous brutality so unflinchingly violent, father and son do the dirty deed and then dispose of Arlette’s body in perhaps one of the most unceremonious and disturbing sequences ever enacted on film. And when the sheriff shows up to investigate the mysterious disappearance of Arlette James, they have a convincing cover story nobody seems to even question. But as the days pass, Wilfred starts seeing the slaughtered figure of Arlette, or maybe it’s his imagination. . . or could it be a guilty conscience? Soon his entire world begins to crumble, until he eventually finds himself with absolutely nothing and no one. And yet the specter of Arlette and the vile creatures which surround her presence have by now taken full possession of him and are not about to let go.

Parting Shot

Writer and director Zak Hilditch adapted the story from the novella by Stephen King which was published in 2010 in the collection entitled Full Dark, No Stars.

The slow burn of 1922 demands some patience from the viewer, as the horror element doesn’t take place until the last third of the picture, and in fact occurring years after the crime. What also demands patience is Thomas Jane’s clenched teeth vocal pattern, which was admittedly tough to decipher throughout the film. Until close to the very end, the film works as a captivating psychological portrait of domestic and marital tension – and Depression-era misery -further strained by economic hardship and resentment. And with Wilfred’s own voice narrating both his actions and the thoughts directing them, we are given a bird’s eye glimpse into the human heart once Evil has found its way in.

1922 is presently streaming on Netflix.

Norma’s Streaming Picks is proud to partner on a fantastic site for Baby Boomers, Midcentury/Modern (presently known as Pandemic Diaries) as well as right here at home. I invite you to go there for more great content!

YouTube Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3E_fT0aTsjI

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