The latest step in Stephen King’s drive for streaming service domination is Netflix’s adaptation of his novella 1922. The story -drawn from King’s 2010 anthology Full Dark No Stars – is a family tragedy given breath in King’s distinctive emotional language. Adapting it would be challenging, but Netflix and director Zak Hildritch haven proven themselves largely equal to the challenge.
1922 is a character study of Wilfred James, a Nebraska farmer whose dispute with his wife over finances escalates into something loathsome that slowly takes everything away over the course of one hellish year, and beyond. Longtime King fans will be drawn by the casting of Thomas Jane in 1922’s lead role. Best known for his portrayal of the tragic protagonist of 2008’s The Mist, Jane proved then that he fundamentally understands King’s material and knows how to translate it to a performance. Since he carries the entire weight of 1922 on his character’s shoulders, this skill is a must-have and he continues to deliver. The supporting cast, which includes veteran actors Molly Parker and Neal McDonough, aid Jane in lifting up this dark, grizzled performance.
Of course it wouldn’t be a Stephen King story without some moments of squirm-inducing supernatural horror. As James’s crimes come back to haunt him, his terror takes the form of undead horrors and literal armies of hungry rats. The special effects in these scenes are solid and play to the audience’s questioning of James’s sanity and isolation. Like its recent Netflix predecessor Gerald’s Game, 1922 focuses less on twisted visuals and more on the dark corners of its protagonist’s psyche. This aspect sometimes gets lost in adaptations of King’s work but in the case of 1922 Hilditch has chosen to let it fill up the entire screen. A cruelly tense musical score by legendary musician Mike Patton doesn’t hurt either.
It should be mentioned that 1922 is not a fast-paced film. It doesn’t feel slow or overly long, but it is a film that moves at its own comfortable pace. Fans who want to snuggle in for a long Nebraska winter of dread and self-loathing will find this the perfect film. But horror fans who like endless suspense and messy kills might not warm up to 1922 as quickly. Either way, it’s a film whose talent and respect for the intricacies of the story involved make it worth the effort to explore.