1922 is yet another film that has appeared in the midst of new Stephen King adaptations released this year. Directed by Zak Hilditch, this film tells the story of Wilfred James (Thomas Jane), a farmer whose troubled marriage with his wife Arlette (Molly Parker) leads him to murdering her. As is often explored in King’s novels, the movie documents Wilfred’s spiral into insanity and how he and his son, Henry (Dylan Schmid), who aids him in the murder, slowly lose their grip on reality. The plot is based off of a short story by King, and it shows. There is not enough material to adapt into a nearly two hour film, and, unfortunately, this renders the film largely uninteresting. This movie, at times, is very slow. Some situations are drawn out with boredom and frustrating monotony.
Leading up to the wife’s murder, Wilfred convinces and conspires with his son to do this so they can avoid moving to Omaha, a choice the family has been divided over for some time. Arlette, who believes has a stronger claim to the house they live in and their farmland, is firm in her desire to move to the city and take her son with her. Wilfred and James on the other hand, don’t want to move because they enjoy the comfort of their countryside home and dislike the city folk who, to them, are fools. Arlette proposes they sell the farm, split the profits, and divorce. With no other tangible reasons, this is why Wilfred decides that murder is his best option.
The relationship between Arlette and Wilfred is significantly lacking. There was no palpable tension between them, no animosity over which it was worth understanding where Wilfred was coming from. There is a sequence of scenes where, just before her death, Wilfred feigns agreement in selling the farm and moving to the city, and to celebrate, Arlette gets viciously drunk. She attacks her son with her words, poking fun at his innocence and inexperience with his girlfriend from down the road. Wilfred also uses her as a way to persuade his son to kill his mother; if they move to the city, Henry will never see her again.
Arlette is written to be irritating, but not to any extent where I or any viewer could grasp why she would need to die or why these characters would want her dead. The rationale given is not sufficient; there are no understandable reasons why Wilfred would feel so strongly about killing his wife, or Henry to aid in this murder. Those given are flimsy and difficult to believe. Wilfred even admits many times through his frustratingly ubiquitous voice-over that there was always a different, less violent way to going about this disagreement.
Thankfully, Jane gives a compelling performance as Wilfred. Though, he is not thrust into a narrative that is as enticing or eerie as I had hoped it would be.He plays the brooding farmer very well as you can feel the resentment that’s settled deep in his bones. What he also does very well is avoid the stereotypically simple-minded Westerner, whose rough drawl all but covers up his foolishness and inability. James makes Wilfred a very calculating individual, whose actions are done purposefully and thoughtfully. It is enthralling whenever he is on screen, which luckily is for the majority of the film.
3.5 out of 5 stars