The Stephen King adaptation renaissance continues with Netflix’s new 1922, adapted from a King novella of the same name. While not the most nuanced of adaptations, 1922 is effectively creepy, taking an Edgar Allan Poe-like tale of torturous guilt and transporting it to the 1920s.
Thomas Jane is Wilfred James, a mumbly, grumbly man who cares most for the small tract of land he has. His wife Arlette (Molly Parker) detests the country life, and longs to sell what they have and move to the big city. Their teen son Henry (Dylan Schmid) tends to side with his father – there’s nothing city life can offer.
Arlette grows restless, her drinking increases, and the rift between husband and wife (and son) grows even stronger. To the point where WIlfred talks his son into helping him murder Arlette. The murder takes place in a drawn-out, gruesome fashion that will color the rest of the film. While Wilfred and Henry seemingly get away with the crime, the guilt building in the two of them becomes all consuming.
When seemingly supernatural things begin happening, one can’t help wonder – is this all the guilt manifesting itself, or are there really ghostly forces at work? Director Zak Hilditch keeps the intensity going quite well, and pulls off some genuinely creepy moments. But there’s simply not enough of a story to stretch out into a feature, and when Henry takes off with his girlfriend on a cross-country killing spree, one can’t help feel like the narrative has lost its way (even though it should be noted that this subplot is also in King’s story, so perhaps the fault lies more with him).
Still, when 1922 works, it works well. It’s an appropriately chilly, eerie tale; the type of story Poe might’ve co-written with John Steinbeck had that been at all possible (think The Black Cat meets Of Mice and Men). Jane is wholly committed to his gruff-and-tumble character, but his odd decision to constantly talk through gritted teeth does occasionally tend to become distracting.
1922 may not be one of the best recent adaptations of King’s work. It’s not even the best Netflix adaptation – that would be the recent Gerald’s Game. Still, if you’re in the mood for something quick and creepy, 1922 will do the trick. It’ll haunt you in just the right way, and then fade away like a specter.