Guilt is the sort of thing that can haunt you, eat at your inner guts, and destroy your mind. It will weigh on you and everyone you come into contact with. Do something horrible, and it can kill you. Based on Stephen King’s novella, 1922 is an exploration of how guilt is unrelenting and its dread can destroy a man and his entire world.
The man in 1922 is Wilfred James (Thomas Jane), an unwavering farmer who along with his wife Arlette (Molly Parker) inherits 100 acres of farmland. With the 80 acres he already owns, Wilfred sees this as an ideal opportunity to establish a grand farm that he will someday pass on to his son, Henry (Dylan Schmid), now 14. Arlette though has other ideas. She wants out of the tough farm life. She wants to sell the land and move the family to Omaha where she can open up a dressmaking business knowing the city offers more opportunities for all of them. Wilfred refuses to part with his farming lifestyle; working the land is all he knows. Arlette begins to talk divorce, taking the boy, and going to live with her in Omaha.
Facing the loss of his farm, his wife, and son, Wilfred chooses that if he has to let go of one, it will be his wife. He comes up with a plan to kill Arlette and dispose of her body. Wilfred convinces Henry, this is the only way they can keep the farm. He tells Henry killing his mother will be quick and easy. It turns out to be neither, more like harsh and messy. However, they get the job done. The murder is covered up, as is all the blood; the law and neighbors are convinced Arlette left. She packed a bag one day and was gone. In reality, she is at the bottom of an old well being eaten by rats.
Wilfred becomes consumed with guilt and begins to slide deep into madness. As for Henry, he turns to a life of crime. With his girlfriend Shannon, they go off on a life crime; a Bonnie and Clyde crime spree that needless to say does not end well. However, the focus is mainly on Wilfred’s continuous descent into madness. Let me add here that if you have an aversion to rats, this film may be ill-advised to watch.
Adapted for the screen and directed by Zak Hilditch who creates a constant feeling of eerie trepidation throughout the film. Visually, the cinematography is striking and inhospitable. The stark imagery is dominant throughout. The music score is equally sparse and dire. Hilditch’s weakness is in the script, particularly with the characters of Henry and his girlfriend, Shannon.
While there are some of the expected gross-out scenes one expects from a King movie, the film is more of a crime film and character study. Thomas Jane’s role as Wilfred is the most fleshed out character, he’s three dimensional, and the actor does some of his best work. My only complaint is that his clenched teeth speaking style made it sometimes hard to understand him.
1922 is not a typical heart thumping King thriller/horror, and this may disappoint some King fans. It’s more of a morality play that takes its time to play out. It’s the sort of film that theatergoers no longer crave; small movies that take their time to develop at a slower pace. The few Netflix originals I have seen (Kodachrome and Our Souls at Night) seem to follow in this same pattern. Maybe these types of films that don’t make it in theaters have found a place with Netflix and other streaming services. Hopefully, they will fill this niche.