1922 (2017) Review – It’s Bad Because It’s Funny, Among Other Reasons

Why does anyone read a Stephen King book? It doesn’t really matter what’s in the book because in time, you’ll be able to see the movie or the mini-series and find out all you need to know without wasting your time. Quite a few of Stephen King’s books have the same plot anyway. A writer with personal problems goes through some spooky shit in a secluded location. Does that story line sound familiar? Because he uses it a lot.

Bag of Bones; Secret Window/Garden, 1408, Misery, Salem’s Lot, The Shining and that’s just a few of them. The thing about Stephen King’s films specifically is that they’re all over the place in terms of quality. They’re either really good (Shawshank Redemption/The Green Mile/Misery), really mediocre (Thinner) or really, blisteringly, piss-drinkingly awful (Cell).

Being a writer myself (with a published book on Amazon in both Kindle and Paperback) I don’t want to shit all over someone who has a writing career spanning back to the 70’s but come on! The guy has written 58 novels and roughly 200 short stories. That’s a lot and my suspicion is that it’s a quantity over quality issue. If a writer takes a year or two to get a book out, then you know it’s going to be quality, because the writer has thought a lot about the content (that’s why it took over a year to write mine) but this guy is pumping them out like there’s no tomorrow. Of course, with that sheer amount of material to his name, the well is going to run dry and to be honest, the well was empty by the turn of the millennium.

The film adaptations are not totally his fault because he’s not a filmmaker, but the storylines very much are his responsibility. Much like todays example, ‘1922’ which is a “horror” film based on the novella of the same name which was written by… all together now… Stephen King.

Now, Stephen King didn’t actually write the script on this venture nor did he serve as any kind of producer or, that I can see, was involved in any part of the process. But it does have his name on it. Instead, the script was written by the director of this film, Zak Hilditch who also wrote and directed ‘These Final Hours’ which looks really good. He has 11 directing credits to his name and 5 of them are ‘shorts’ so with just 6 feature length movies to his name… who else is on the team?

Holding a producer credit is Ross M. Dinerstein who also produced ‘The Divide’ which I think is really good and I’ve reviewed it on this site so there is proof that I think it’s good.

So far, I’m not totally hating the crew. So why do I think this movie is bad?

Well, I haven’t told you the plot yet. Just so you know, I’m going to be spoiling the shit out of this film so go onto Netflix if you want to watch it and see what happens for yourself.

Wilfred ‘Wilf’ James (Thomas Jane)… Oh, I forgot to tell you that Thomas Jane is in it! That’s another reason why I should like this movie, because Thomas Jane is in it. Thomas Jane has done a ‘Stephen King’ adaptation before with ‘The Mist’ which is great but then again, it’s directed by Frank Darabont as was ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ and ‘The Green Mile’ so what else other than perfection can you expect? I would definitely recommend ‘The Mist’ if you haven’t seen it but beware that it does have a really shocking if not infinitely depressing ending.

Thomas Jane has done some laughably bad films in his time (what actor hasn’t?) but he was also in ‘Punisher (2004)’ which I really liked and not many others did but fuck those people, I thought ‘Punisher (2004)’ was awesome. I didn’t see the sequel, but it didn’t have Thomas Jane in it so I’m assuming that it’s bad.

Oh, shit. Plot.

Wilf owns a farm in Nebraska and lives there with his wife, Arlette (Molly Parker) and their teenage son, Henry (Dylan Schmid). He’s meant to be 14 years old but the actor who plays him looks more like 17. Closer to 20 than 14. Anyway, Wilf only owns half of his land because his wife owns the other half because she inherited it or something and since she wants to move to the city and Wilf doesn’t, she threatens to leave him, sell her half of the farm to some ‘big business’ guy, take Henry and go to the city without Wilf. Henry doesn’t want to go because he’s got a crush on the girl down the road, Shannon (Kaitlyn Bernard). Since Wilf doesn’t want to leave and wants to raise his son to be a farmer so he can pass the land on to him, Wilf decides that the best course of action would be to kill his wife and have his son help him. Because that makes sense. Or it would if this was some kind of alternate dimension where the exact opposite of sense was the right kind of sense, if you see what I mean?

First of all, this film constantly mentions that it’s 1922, implying that the rules were different back then. Last time I checked, murder was still against the law in 1922. By the constant referencing to the time period, I take it that he means that the man’s word was law and his wife must obey him at all times which would make more sense because it was more like that back then. But because Wilf didn’t realise that he’d married the only strong, independent woman in Nebraska, it would be best to dispose of her and manipulate his own child into not only watching but also participating by holding her down.

The film makes an effort to show how much Wilf thought through the crime he committed. When the police show up, he’s already got a story worked out. He says that Arlette has packed a suitcase and left and shows the sheriff the half-empty closet which isn’t totally empty because Wilf knew that he would have to make it look like she packed light to move quickly and things like that.

BUT

Can we just talk about how getting your son to help in the crime wasn’t the best strategy? I’m just wondering why? If it was for help, then certainly in the way that he did it. He tells his son that he’s going to ‘make it quick’ and then proceeds to brutally slash her throat with a big kitchen knife which isn’t quick at all. Henry’s role in the murder was to hold a bag over his mother’s head for another unbeknownst reason. There are a few reasons but none of them make sense. The first thought that springs to mind is that they don’t want her to know the identity of her attackers which doesn’t matter because she’s hardly going to tell anyone. Another might be a vain effort to keep her quiet, but they have no neighbours, they’re in a farmhouse that’s slap-bang in the middle of a massive corn field. The last reason which would probably make the most sense (which isn’t a lot) is that they don’t want to look at her face while they are murdering her, as if they don’t want to go through with it and the act of killing her is some kind of kindness. Nope, this is cold-blooded murder.

Also, ‘making it quick’? Then why the knife? I’m speaking about this in the context of the movie. I just felt the need to make that clear. If he really wanted to kill his wife in a quick way, Wilf, you’re a farmer. You own a gun. I’m not making assumptions either, we see that he has a gun as he brandishes it for quite a few scenes of the film. I suppose he’s thinking that if the police ever found her body then anyone could have done it because everyone owns a kitchen knife of some description and I don’t think ‘ballistics’ were a thing in 1922 but then if he was trying to distance himself from the murder with his choice of weapon…. Then why did he dump her body in a dry well on the property!? That’s not going to be a huge leap for the police, is it!?

So, he’s already traumatised his 14-year-old son and I’m going to tell you why getting him involved in his scheme wasn’t the best plan. 14-year olds aren’t the best liars. When the cops come around, Wilf tries to keep his son out of sight which is probably for the best and his son doesn’t want to be around the police anyway but when he is cornered, Henry couldn’t be more shifty if he tried. Doesn’t matter because Wilf totally gets away with it.

But it wouldn’t be ‘Stephen King’ without some spooky stuff happening and I’m sorry to tell you but the ‘spooky stuff’ doesn’t end up happening. I watched this film with my brother and we were too busy laughing so maybe the ‘spooky stuff’ was lost but even if I were watching it alone, there aren’t enough spooky moments to warrant this being a horror film.

So much of the screen time is spent with Wilf telling us how smart he was in covering up the crime and berating his son for impregnating his neighbour’s daughter and then occasionally seeing his dead wife for maybe a few seconds but then it’s straight back to the soap opera.

The middle section of the film really does play out like a soap opera with his son knocking up Shannon and then the two running away together which totally defies the point of Wilf killing his wife which was so he would have land to pass down to his son.

But instead, Henry and Shannon form a ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ style duo where they rob places because they don’t have any money. Then why run away? You’re already in a bad situation, don’t make it worse. If Henry’s competing to see if he be a worse father than his own, then he’s making a great start. Granted, murder isn’t great on the morality scale but robbing people doesn’t make you a saint either.

This whole escapade ends about as well as you’d think it would. Not very well. Shannon is shot during a robbery. STOP! Why is the woman carrying your child participating in the robberies? I thought this was 1922. I thought the woman stayed at home and the men did all the work and didn’t ask questions or get involved? These are your rules, ‘1922’, why aren’t you following them?

So, Shannon is shot, and they can’t go to a hospital because they’re wanted in many different states and so she bleeds out and dies wherein, Henry shoots himself next to her. Wilf is left wifeless and childless. Whose fault is that, Wilf? All of this could have been avoided. No logic, none at all, anywhere in this film.

The main theme in this film is rats. Because rats eat his wife’s body in the well, they start gnawing that the cattle and showing up around the house in a foreboding way. His son’s body is chewed on by rats and Wilf gets bitten by a rat on the hand which gets infected and needs to be amputated.

The start of the films shows Wilf in a hotel room in 1930 as he’s writing down his confession and so the 1922 parts are a flashback. Occasionally, the film will cut back to 1930 and show Wilf staring at the wall as we hear scratching behind it. At the end, Wilf is confronted by the ghosts of Arlette, Shannon and Henry who is holding a kitchen knife and promises to ‘make it quick’. Fade to credits.

Apparently, the book ends with a report saying that Wilf’s body was found in the hotel room and he’s covered in bite marks which are supposedly self-inflicted meaning that the whole set of events may have been a delusion.

Basically, the moral of the story is ‘Don’t kill people’ which we all know anyway. Even Wilf himself says ‘In the end, we all get caught’. Well, yes. That’s why we don’t kill people. And because of morals and all that shit.

I think the film thought it was being clever because whilst Wilf didn’t get caught by the police, he was killed by ghosts. But ghosts don’t exist. So….

I mentioned that this film is bad because it’s funny and it is and all this stuff that I’ve written about was really an after-thought ahead of time because I was laughing so much during the film for one big reason. Thomas Jane’s accent.

Now, I love a southern accent on a man. A deep, southern accent is just about the sexiest thing I could hear from a man and Thomas Jane would have pulled it off except, I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. I don’t know if he had a vocal coach because he’s not southern but the person who told him to not fully open his mouth when he speaks was giving terrible advice. All I heard was deep, gravelly growls and that turned the film into a comedy. The irony is that his performance would have been spot on if I could fathom anything that he was saying and could gleam the slightest essence of the plot. Since he’s the main character and the voice overs are from him, I had to interpret a lot of the plot from the visuals because the narration was impenetrable.

Since this was a Netflix release, there is no box office score but weirdly, other people could understand Thomas Jane’s accent and did enjoy the film. It has an 87% score on Rotten Tomatoes so what do I know?

To me, ‘1922’ definitely feels like a ‘scraping the bottom of the barrel’ approach to a story but it’s definitely not the worst thing I’ve ever seen with Stephen King’s name attached to it, ‘Cell (2016)’ still holds that title but it’s hardly ‘The Green Mile’.

So, there you have it. ‘1922’ is fine if you have the subtitles on.

4 responses to “1922 (2017) Review – It’s Bad Because It’s Funny, Among Other Reasons

  1. Nice, funny review. I know what you mean about King. I like some of his stuff, a lot, but even that stuff comes off very recycled. I wonder if 1922, the book (I rarely watch a King adaptation), has a spindly guy with an undershot chin? Just about every Stephen King book I’ve read has that guy. He definitely strokes his pet tropes. And yeah, most of the adaptations are really bad. There are exceptions, of course. Right now I’m watching The Dead Zone. It’s weird, but I like it. Still, I admire Stephen King the author. I envy his imagination and his discipline–and, of course, his intelligence.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I totally agree. I haven’t read a great deal of Stephen King stuff but I’ve found that his non-horror stuff is better. The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption were awesome. I totally respect his discipline. In the early days, he was knocking out stories even though he had a full time job and a family. That’s discipline. But now he primarily writes books and that’s when the cracks begin to show. I haven’t got the attention span to read some of his books. ‘Under the Dome’ was over 1000 pages but if I want, I can just watch the TV show. Why bother?

      Liked by 1 person

    • I know what you mean. I don’t find a lot scary these days. Horror movies has their fun in the 80’s and a little bit in the 90’s after ‘Scream’ but now we’ve seen it all. I can still enjoy a horror film but I don’t tend to get scared anymore. 1922 missed the mark for me but a lot of people did like it so that’s a bonus for the film.

      Like

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