“31 Days of Horror” Day 15: “1922” (2017)
“In 1922 a man’s pride was a man’s land. And so was his son.”
Anyone who knows me knows that one of my all-time favorite authors is Stephen King. It makes sense, then, that I love watching the cinematic recreations of his stories. Some of them are even among some of my favorite horror movies out there. Therefore, when I recently began reading “Full Dark No Stars”, which contains the story “1922”, I immediately added the 2017 film version to my watch list.
“1922” is the story of a farmer, told as he writes a long and detailed confession of the sins he committed in the titular year. Wilfred James (played by Thomas Jane) is a lifelong farmer, of the type who would never so much as imagine leaving his family’s land. When his wife Arlette (Molly Parker) inherits a hundred acres of land in her father’s will, she immediately has plans for it. She wants to sell to the Farrington Company (a pork farming company) and use the money to move to Omaha to open a dress shop. Wilf, of course, wants to add the land to his own eighty acres. Thus begins a heated spousal debate with no possible happy ending.
“In 1922 I murdered my wife. My son…aided me.”
Wilf goes a few steps over the line of good reason, and he brings their son Henry (Dylan Schmid) with him on a downward spiral. The two plot to kill the family matriarch, and from that first fateful decision things start to go rather wrong. The next thing they know, Arlette is in the old well with a congregation of rats to keep her company, and though they seem to have gotten away with it, their sense of success is quite short-lived.
Let me first say that aside from a few minor details, the film version of “1922” follows the book version very well. It’s almost spot-on, honestly, which is something you don’t see all that often. That said, I would still say that I consider the book version to be better. The main reason is simply the fact that a huge amount of the story – especially the creepier bits – relies on being able to be inside Wilf’s mind. There are occasional voice-overs letting us in on little bits of the story we may have not otherwise gleaned, but it’s nothing like having a running commentary of every thought going through Wilf’s head.
Some things just never translate visually…
And that, I think, is the main problem with the film version of “1922”. Unfortunately it’s a rather large problem too. While I do personally believe that this is a good film, I do not believe that it is a good horror film. There are a few horrific moments for sure, and I could see the movie being labeled as something of a period drama, maybe even a thriller, but not a horror.
Because, you see, as a horror, the movie is just kind of…boring. It’s slow and plodding, with very little in the way of anything truly scary. This seems strange, because the book version is actually quite tense, with plenty of shiver-inducing moments. Which is why I say that the main problem is being outside of Wilf’s head. Most of what makes the book version of “1922” scary is being able to actually see and experience the psychosis, the slow degradation of Wilf’s mind.
The rats were the stars of the show, in my opinion.
There is, for instance, a scene in both book and film, in which a rat gnaws off one of the family cows’ udders before escaping back into the pipe from whence it came – which just so happens to lead right to the old well where Arlette is rotting. That scene in the movie is about two minutes long, if that, and mostly involves Wilf seeing the rat, chasing it toward the pipe, smelling the rank coming out of the pipe, and shoving a piece of canvas in to keep the rats from getting out until he can cement it over.
In the book this scene is numerous pages long and goes into great detail about the wailing of the cow, the battle Wilf goes through to get the rat off her, the way the rat laps up the blood and milk from the udder, the stench of death and decay wafting down the pipe, the sound of rats scuttling beyond, and the torrent of agonized thoughts running through Wilf’s mind, including half-believed theories of Arlette sending the rats, commanding them to do her bidding. In other words, it’s a significantly more effective scene because Wilf describes every detail as he experiences it, as opposed to a few short moments in the film showing us that, yup, a rat attacked a cow.
All in all I can’t say that I disliked “1922”. I did enjoy it and I do think that it was a good movie, assuming that you were looking for the kind of slower-paced piece they created. If you’re looking for genuine horror with decent scares, however, you might want to consider just reading the book instead.
What are you watching for the spooky season? Have you seen “1922”? Let me know your own thoughts and give your own suggestions for horror movie musts in the comments! And don’t forget to check out my other ‘31 Days of Horror‘ movie reviews!
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