“… Thomas Jane went so hard with this performance and everyone else just kind of showed up.”
With the knowledge of a film being released on Netflix, I decided to read the Stephen King story 1922 which is the first of four stories in the book Full Dark, No Stars (the rest of which I have yet to read). So as usual I’m going to discuss my thoughts on the book (or in this case story), and then my thoughts on the film. So let’s get into it.
1922 is a story about a farmer, Wilfred James, who decides to kill his wife. Not only does he decide to kill his wife, but he coerces his fourteen year-old son into helping him as well. The story then follows the repercussions of this action. So what did I think of this story? Well it will be no surprise to hear that I liked it. I’m a fan of Stephen King so everything about this story is pretty much what I could hope for. First of all I really liked that 1922 jumped straight into the action of the story. 1922 is written as a first-person account of the crime seeing as it is Wilfred’s confession that he is writing in the year 1930. Because the story is being told by the main character he knows right where to start it off so that we don’t have much fat to trim at the beginning. But it wasn’t actually this character writing the story, was it? It was Stephen King himself; and that shows. Once again King manages to create these characters who are so realistic, but at the same time so dislikable. It’s almost scary how well King can manipulate your emotions like that, but that’s why I love him. On one side of things you have a mother you is kind of a bitch. She is hard-headed and is pretty cocky about it. But on the other hand you have a father who is emotionally manipulative (a trait I’m all too familiar with), but at the same time is being touted as our main character. And in the middle of it all we have Henry, or Hank, a fourteen year-old boy who is in way over his head. And it’s these brilliantly written characters that drive this story from start to finish; the most impressive of the three being Hank. With Hank King manages to create this character who is so tragic, and he conveys Hank’s grief so well. Of course, much like most other King stories, you can draw comparisons between some of these characters and King himself. This time around the winner is our main character Wilfred! Wilfred is just a simple farmer in the year 1922, but unlike farmers of the time Wilfred is very well-read. And because of this fact, Wilfred is also very well-spoken (and kind of a dick sometimes). Sound like anyone you know? I’m fine with King projecting sometimes (it’s easier to write, I’m sure), but some things stick out a little too much. I would have loved for King to have played this straight and written a character who wasn’t a borderline genius despite not doing anything but tending crops all day.
But the one thing King does better than anyone else is creating both graphic, and intense scenarios. I’m not going to spoil anything but some scenes in this book are just straight fucked up. Like the kind of shit that would get you to see a doctor in any other time-period. I’m not sure how King lives with all of these demented thoughts in his head, but from everything I’ve seen of the guy he does a great job of suppressing them. And it’s not even the graphic scenes that are high in the tension department, but also a lot of the encounters that happen after the… *ahem* deed. King has a way of keeping tensions high during even seemingly innocuous tasks, and that’s why he’s the king (pun intended. Aren’t I hilarious?). I also found the relationship between Wilfred and Hank to be oddly heartwarming after the crime had been committed. These moments that showed they really cared about one another made me all warm and fuzzy inside until I remembered what act had brought them to that point. But not everything was on point with 1922 because I felt the story kind of lost focus somewhere in the middle with the discussion of Hank’s life. This segment seemed to stray pretty far from the point of the story, and it was all stuff we had pretty much heard before. Of course King was great at writing it all, but I wish that time could have been spent elsewhere. I also found the continuous inclusion of the rats to be kind of straying from the point, but that point righted itself. I absolutely loved that the rats acted as the ‘telltale heart’ of this story, and thinking about them in that regard looking back it makes everything better. I also loved the ending of the story and how fucking dark it got (especially with the newspaper clipping at the end). The only part that sticks out to me is the thought of Wilfred, being bitten by rats, writing out his final thoughts. I mean, it was a powerful ending to this story, but when you break it down it’s a bit ridiculous.
As far as the film adaptation of 1922 goes I liked it, but it didn’t win me over immediately. As you could imagine some of the things from the story had to be either cut or changed to allow for the 100 minute runtime, and a lot of those changes manifest themselves during the beginning of the film. The biggest change, at least to me, was the removal of the ‘bonding’ that took place between Wilfred and Hank after their heinous crime. This was sad to me because this bonding added a much darker tone to the story that the movie kind of removed. It showed us that, despite these terrible circumstances, these two guys were there for one another and they were thick as thieves. I also liked how the film did its best to stick to the time period of the story, but that came with its obvious constraints. The biggest tip-off of this probably budgetary issue were the vehicles used in 1922. Now I don’t know much about cars to speak to whether or not they were from the right era, but you could tell that a lot was changed to fit which cars the filmmakers could get their hands on. The biggest of these changes was the sherif arriving in just a regular car, not one with a star on the side. You could also tell that everyone was being really careful with these cars which was the most apparent when Hank and Shannon are trying to escape the law, and the car swerves off the road. I didn’t expect a huge set piece that would have required a bunch of stunt coordinators or anything, but the car literally moves three feet to the right and then it just stops. You can’t tell me that the car was rendered inoperable after the brakes were applied. But now I feel that I’m just being pedantic. As far as other things that were changed about the story, I really liked that they abridged the ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ story-arch. This portion of the book didn’t really sit right with me so to see them go through it quickly, while still hitting all of the points made me happy. I also want to point out that some of the dialogue was changed in the movie. How do I know that? Because it stuck out like a sore thumb. Take this a lesson: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. You’re not Stephen King; anything that you do change will be so obviously yours that it’s just not worth it. I also found the new ending of the film to be weaker than the ending of the book. Once again: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
One thing that had my interest before the movie started was the extent to which the effects would go. If you’ve read the story, you’ll know that 1922 has a few very graphic sequences. I was interested to see if 1922 would go the Gerald’s Game route and include these in all of their glory, or if it would tastefully cut around them. What I got was kind of a mix between the two. If you’re talking about the murder itself, the film opted to use editing to mask most of the crime, instead cutting to Wilfred sitting in his hotel room in 1930. But that’s not to say they didn’t show any gore, because there was still quite a bit. For instance I was surprised that they showed Arlette in the well, even though her appearance was less horrific than it was in the book. One thing that interested me throughout the film were the effects, and how inconsistent they were. On one hand we would often see amazing practical effects that would make your skin crawl (like Arlette in the well, for instance), but other times there would be digital effects that were just dogshit. One example of this would be the cow falling into the well, but this one I understand. You can’t push a real cow into a well, and you can’t really imply what happened because it’s kind of complex. What I don’t understand is why 1922 opted, on more than one occasion, for digital blood. I fucking hate digital blood with a passion and 1922 is a perfect example why. During the murder, tensions were high. I was on the edge of my seat and captivated by what I was seeing on screen. But then, out of a fresh stab wound, comes a spurt of blood that is: the wrong focus, the wrong colour, and has no shadow. This very obviously digital blood spurt took me instantly out of the moment, and left me with my head in my hands. Blood is so easy to work with, just get a tube and spray some red liquid everywhere; why would you ever want to ruin your film with digital blood? I thought the nightmare was over until, later in the film Wilfred is reading a book and what drips on the page? Nothing. Some blood was added digitally, but nothing physically dripped on the page. How do I know this was digital blood? Well how about the fact that it landed on an out-of-focus part of the text but was perfectly in-focus? It honestly looked like a scene from a fucking cartoon. And why? They didn’t want to get real (fake) blood on a fucking book? I’m going to tell you something: If you are ever working on a production and it is decided to have digital blood drip on a book because you don’t want to ruin the real book; call me. I will gladly foot the extra ten dollars that it would cost to buy another fucking book for your production so your movie doesn’t look like shit.
So let’s talk about 1922 as a movie now, instead of an adaptation. First of all I want to praise the direction of the film because I felt that it perfectly captured the tone of the story. I also want to praise the score, because it managed to heighten the sense of unease that this movie will give you. And that’s one thing I like about movies over books: a lot of your sense can be manipulated by things like that. The score in the film guides your emotions in scenes where nothing is even happening, and it manages to stay beautiful throughout all of it. I will say that the film, if you haven’t read the book, may be a little hard to follow in places. I found the story to kind of bounce around a lot, especially in the beginning, and this may cause some confusion to some viewers. What else is there to talk about other than the performances? Let’s just jump right into this: Thomas Jane did a fucking fantastic job, and everyone else was pretty good. I say pretty good because Thomas Jane upstaged them in literally every second of this film. He was like the one kid in drama class who actually gave a shit, so on opening night he came out on stage giving it his all while the rest of the kids were just trying not to fail. And this isn’t a bad thing (at least for Jane), because I found his performance to be enthralling. The issue arrises when you compare it to other performances, and it seems so out of place. Here you have this farmer who is constantly dirty and who speaks with such an accent that it is hard to understand him sometimes, but literally everyone everyone else are just normal people. Even the farmer down the road is just a normal dude, so whenever Thomas Jane shares a scene with anyone you can’t help but laugh at how absurd it is. And Thomas Jane really pulled a ‘Tom Hardy’ on this one, because if I hadn’t read the book I would have had no idea what he was saying half of the time. Again I found that this worked with the story, but it’s still pretty funny to me that Thomas Jane went so hard with this performance and everyone else just kind of showed up.
Overall 1922 (both the book and the movie) was an experience. The original story is filled with so much intensity and dread, and the film adaptation captures that well. The film isn’t without its problems, but overall I would say that it is a very solid adaptation that stays pretty faithful to the source material. Both the story and film are pretty slow, but the atmosphere that you experience throughout both is worth the time.
I give 1922 (both the book and the movie) a B