Saturday 30 December 2017

1922 (2017) - Movie Review
The plot: Farmer Wilf (Thomas Jane) has holed up himself up in a hotel to write down a confession. In 1922, in response to his wife Arlette (Molly Parker) inheriting 100 acres of framing land, he decided to kill her and take the land for himself. However, as he and his son Henry (Dylan Schmid) try to cover up their crime from their neighbours, the weight of Wilf’s actions starts to bear down on him. In an attempt to have more, he is about to lose everything.

Jane’s performance really takes some time to get used to. While I would attribute this to how his accent comes across with a more Southern twang than a regional Midwestern drawl, the actual reason for such is more visual than aural. In a lot of scenes, it is clearly visible that the guy is speaking his dialogue through gritted teeth and even chewing a bit on his lips to get it across; once noticed, it can get incredibly distracting. However, after the growing pains have ironed themselves out, he is seriously captivating as the guilt and psychological pressure make themselves more prominent. Hell, after a while, that drawl in his voice starts to feel perfectly in-tune with the character.

Parker as his wife and victim-to-be honestly works better as a ghost presence than a character in her own right, but she at least leaves an impression in her initial scenes. Schmid as his son echoes a lot of the niggling guilt at the heart of Wilfred’s character, imbued with a lingering sense of youthful vigour that makes how the guilt ends up affecting him hit that much harder. Kaitlyn Bernard as Henry’s sweetheart works very well alongside Schmid and even Jane, establishing instant rapport with both in only a few moments of screen time, Neal McDonough as her father gives a nicely understated performance (one of the better I’ve seen from him), and Brian d’Arcy James as the local sheriff adds a fair bit to some of the film’s tenser moments.

We’re dealing with another Aussie filmmaker here, this time with writer/director Zak Hilditch who also gave us These Final Hours, one of the best films of 2014. With that effort, Hilditch managed to make the near-constant sunlight seem like the murkiest setting possible for the story, turning a mundane aspect of nature into a portender of the apocalypse. I bring this up because his and DOP Ben Richardson’s approach to horror here feels pulled from the same playbook. Except here, rather than having the grand Midwestern sun serve as an ill omen, we get a far more encompassing depiction of nature as horrifying. The corn fields looking like a maze a man can lose his soul in (a common source for rural terror in Stephen King’s works), a mostly-real-but-occasionally-CGI cow that looks like it is constantly giving Jane the evil eye, and then there’s all the damn rats. If you’re someone who gets screechy at the sight of rats, might be best to avoid this one as there are a lot of the little critters running around here… and they serve as one of the better examples of visual metaphor I’ve seen this year.

No one person is absolutely satisfied with their surroundings. Between the human discomfort in being static for too long and the simple fact that there are always new things to interest the mind, every person in human history has coveted something in the possession of another. You spend long enough looking at that top-of-the-line Maserati in your neighbour’s driveway, and something inside you wants to claim it. Of course, if everyone gave into those urges, the entire idea of ‘personal property’ would be null and void since no-one could keep their hands on anything long enough for that label to apply. But then there are those who decide that maybe someone else’s shiny new toy would look better in their own hands.
I bring all this up because the notion of coveting, specifically in the Biblical sense, is at the heart of what drives our main character. He wants land, he wants money, and he will shed blood if that’s what it takes. As he tries to justify his desires and the lengths to which he’ll go to satisfy them, it takes on the familiar route of how people spend so long being jealous of what others have that they lose sight of what they already possess. And sure enough, Wilf becomes the two-legged version of A Dog And Its Reflection in how much is taken from him.

But how does this fit in the larger Stephen King canon? I mean, we’re at the end of our year-long ride into the man’s adapted work; the film being set in a rather prominent location from The Stand can’t be all that this connects with. Well, we definitely get to see another side of King’s methodology here through how it handles the idea of regret. Regret is something that King is rather familiar with writing about, often channelling his own regrets connected to his career or his substance abuse into his works. As I’ve likely said before, there’s a reason why a lot of his characters are either alcoholics or recovering alcoholics. From that stepping stone, Hilditch and Jane do a very impressive job at showing how much regret for one’s actions can eat away at a person.
This is where the rats come in, the little scavengers that some of the classier horror films will usually show chewing on corpses. The thing that niggles away at your perception, almost as if it’s following you, and no matter what means you use to divert it or plug up the cracks, it still always finds a way to the surface. Sounds like a metaphor for internal guilt to me! But a very well-handled metaphor that stays consistent for the entire film, shown through not an overabundance of gore (although, to be fair, the first real scare we get from them is all kinds of deserved) but a deft hand that lets the dread creep in over the stark visuals and Mike “Yes, the guy from Faith No More” Patton’s queasy-as-fuck string arrangements.

All in all, this rounds off a damn good year for Stephen King adaptations with a harrowing look at greed and guilt. The acting takes a bit to really kick in but Thomas Jane turns out a terrific performance as our lead, the visuals show Zak Hilditch maintaining his knack for turning nature into a nightmare, and the writing takes a deep and murky dive into material envy and the internal destruction it causes. “Thou shalt not covet” turned into Pagan horror with a hefty dose of psycho-horror; that ticks more than enough boxes for me to recommend checking this one out.

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