Friday, October 20, 2017

1922: More Stephen King on Netflix

It seems like 98% of Stephen King’s fiction is set in Maine, but hardcore fans will recognize the semi-fictional town of Hemingford Home, Nebraska. The dustbowl burg played a tangential role in The Stand and It, but it was the primary setting of one short story and one novella. The latter joins Big Driver and A Good Marriage as the third of the four novellas published together in Full Dark, No Stars to be adapted for the screen. The Nebraska plains are indeed bad lands in Zak Hilditch’s 1922 (trailer here), which premieres today on Netflix.

Wilfred James was born to work the land, but his dissatisfied wife Arlette, not so much. Ironically, she is the one who inherits one hundred prime acres from her father, but she intends to sell out to a pork agribusiness and open a dress shop in the sinful metropolis of Omaha. Of course, she intends to take their fourteen-year-old son Henry (or Hank, depending on which parent is calling him) with her. It also stands to figure the pig processing plant would render Wilf’s eighty acres unfarmable. Hence, he rather resents her for these plans, but most of all, he just hates her for being her.

James has murder in his heart, but he lures Hank into his plan, using some nefarious bait. The shrewdly observant farmer recognizes his son is head over heels for Shannon Cotterie, who probably is the girl next door, but that still a decent hike’s distance. Mean old Arlettte speaks of her in course, dismissive terms and her scheme would obviously separate the smitten teens, so she is going to die. Unfortunately, the actually killing is much messier than anyone expected. Then the rats start feasting on her corpse stashed in their abandoned well. No matter how hard he tries, James cannot eradicate the infestation. In fact, the rats become progressively more aggressive.

1922 is not the scariest King adaptation ever, but it ranks highly in terms of atmosphere and sense of place. This American Gothic tale wouldn’t be as convincing if it were set on a hardscrabble Down East maple syrup farm. It boasts a potent sense of loneliness and disconnection from human society. There are some chilling moments, but generally, 1922 is more akin to really strong Twilight Zone and E.C. Comics stories. Yet, there are plenty of genre elements, including ghosts, swarming rats, in media res confessions, Freudian misogyny, and cows living in the farm house.

Thomas Jane is really terrific growling and sighing as the haunted (literally) Wilf James. He is chillingly manipulative in the early scenes, yet it is shocking to see him laid so low by karma in the third act. Jane also makes a convincing case for the lead role if anyone is looking to produce the Tom Waits story. The counterbalancing Molly Parker is wonderfully tart and nasty as Arlette. Plus, the ever-reliable Neal McDonough puts the exclamation point on the film as Cotterie’s well-to-do father.

Netflix really seems to get how Stephen King should be done. Instead of bloated tent-poles, they are acquiring lean and mean adaptations from interesting filmmakers, like Hilditch, whose These Final Hours is one of the most distinctive end-of-the-world films in the last five years. Like Gerald’s Game, it features a first-class cast that well suits the material, but probably lacks the sort of Q-scores Hollywood would put its faith in. Highly recommended, 1922 starts streaming today on Netflix.