We missed Netflix’s 1922 — based on a 131-page Stephen King novella — when it was released last October, but my Netflix account has been pushing it on me for the last three months. This week I finally broke down “FINE NETFLIX. I WILL WATCH YOUR STEPHEN KING MOVIE JUST LEAVE ME ALONE OK?”
Netflix was right to suggest it. It’s a nifty little suspense thriller, a quick-and-nasty character drama that does what Stephen King does best: Find a scab and pick at it until the arm falls off.
Set in rural Nebraska, 1922 tells the story of Wilfred James (Thomas Jane), a farmer with a 100-acre lot of land and a life of hard, rewarding work. He hopes to work the land, drink lemonade, and live the good life until his son is old enough to take it over. The catch, however, is that he is in a loveless marriage with Arlette (Molly Parker), who wants to sell the land to a corporate outfit and move to the city. The land, technically, belongs to Arlette — it was an inheritance from her father — so the only solution he sees is to murder his wife, an endeavor in which he recruits his son to aide him.
It’s a messy but successful murder. Afterwards, Wilfred and his son, Henry (Dylan Schmid), toss Arlette in a well, drop a cow on top of her, and fill up the well. They create a convincing cover story about how Arlette left that the sheriff has no reason to disbelieve. As one might expect with a Stephen King story, however, the murder of Arlette begins the slow, unraveling of Wilfred. The guilt gets to him, and that guilt comes in the form of rats — nasty little fuckers — that eat him alive, metaphorically speaking (and a little bit literally, too).
1922 plays like a compact, horror noir, and director Zak Hilditch (who also adapted Stephen King’s story) keeps things moving along at an efficient pace. Thomas Jane is terrific, speaking almost entirely through gritted teeth, as his sanity slowly leaks away. Molly Parker also turns in a fine performance, mostly a rotting, rat-filled corpse that haunts Wilfred’s nightmares, both sleeping and awake. The story is told by Wilfred as his murder confession eight years after the event, and while the story itself is somewhat predictable, there are reasons not to rely entirely on the account of the narrator, creating some interesting ambiguities.
Ultimately, 1922 is not an earth-shattering film, but it’s a solid, well-crafted story featuring strong performances and a few moments of ick that will get under viewers’ skin. It’s the perfect kind of film for late-night or mid-afternoon Netflix viewing, so if your Netflix account is beckoning you to watch, heed its advice.