At a time it couldn’t have been more appropriate, to follow up their success with Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of GERALD’S GAME, Netflix follows it up with another celebrated King novella, “1922”, written and directed by ZAK HILDITCH, previously known for the apocalyptic Aussie cult hit, THESE FINAL HOURS.
With the topic of violence against women front-and-center these days, King’s source material digs at the stoic “orneriness” that lies at the heart of every man, no matter how decent they think they are, or appear to be to others. The ‘war’ between men and women can be a deadly serious business, especially when the ‘combatants’ feel that the desires they hold dear must be protected, even if the consequences of doing so are fatal ones.
The less you know going into it, the better, but if you have managed to see the trailer and yet never read the novella, here’s the details in a nutshell. Wilfred James (THOMAS JANE from Frank Darabont’s stunning King film THE MIST) lives in Hemingford Home, OK, with his wife, Arlette (MOLLY PARKER of HOUSE OF CARDS, DEXTER and THE ROAD) and son Henry (DYLAN SCHMID, who appears in an adaptation by another King – Joe Hill King’s story, HORNS). Wilfred married Arlette basically to gain the land she was bequeathed by her late father. But while he’s content with the farming life, Arlette has plans of her own, which include selling off her considerable share of the land and using the proceeds to “go big city” and take Henry with her. Intractable force meets immovable will between the two of them, and when Arlette flatly refuses to be convinced otherwise, Wilfred’s mind turns to the only other option he sees that will rectify the situation…murder.
But this ain’t no episode of COLUMBO – we are deep into King territory, and though a quote from another one of his celebrated tales comes to mind – “Sometimes, dead is better” – that is most certainly NOT the case here.
First, I cannot speak highly enough of the lead performances. If you thought Thomas Jane was something in THE MIST, brace yourself. It’s unfortunate that because of his rugged good looks, he is an actor that too many people have slept on for far too long. His taciturn Wilfred here brings to mind no less than the late, great Heath Ledger’s performance in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, but in a completely different context. Keeping his rage, anguish and fragile masculinity all tamped down with a Midwestern accent in which he seems to bite off words and spit them out, more than speaking in complete sentences, it’s a multi-layered performance that says as much about Jane’s skill as it does about his character’s arc from proud farmer to a man barely holding onto his very last shreds of sanity. Here’s hoping that he gets cast as more of King’s heroes and anti-heroes.
As the strong-willed Arlette, Parker matches him beat-for-beat, as a woman very aware of her own worth, in a world where women were often expected to toe the line and kowtow to their husband’s wishes, regardless of what they may be. She is a force to be reckoned with, and more so when the story takes its dark and terrifying twists and turns. Even when there are scenes where she’s not required to do very much, Parker makes Arlette’s force and fury come through in effectively horrific fashion.
Relative newcomer Dylan Schmid is by turns heartbreaking and heart-freezing as Henry, buffeted by the winds of his parents’ furious confrontations. Used and abused in ways no child should be, he’s a good kid at heart whose own wants and needs aren’t even considered in the machinations of his mother and father, who use him as a chess piece in their battles against one another. You want to see Henry come to a better end, and you feel his anger and anguish when sadly, things go in a completely awful direction instead.
The supporting cast is equally amazing: BRIAN D’ARCY JAMES as the too-inquisitive Sheriff Jones; KAITLYN BERNARD as the comely Shannon Cotterie, the young girl that Henry is sweet on; BOB FRAZER as the officious Andrew Lester, an official who represents Arlette’s interests regarding the farm.
But special mention must be made of yet another actor that people don’t give enough credit to: NEAL MCDONOUGH, who plays Harlan Cotterie, Wilfred’s neighbor from ‘down the way’ and Shannon’s well-to-do dad. From the STAR TREK film franchise, to a role in the beloved cult classic RAVENOUS, to key roles in several TV series, there is nothing McDonough can’t do, in the same vein as Jane’s skilled acting ability. Even though he’s not called upon to do a lot here, when he does share a couple of scenes with Jane’s Wilfred, the scenes are pivotal and heartbreaking, as only King could accomplish in a story where even the best of friends are fated to take different, doomed paths, whether out of pride, hubris or just a state of blissful – and sometimes willful ignorance to a future that holds anything but happy endings for anyone.
I haven’t yet seen Hilditch’s THESE FINAL HOURS, but just based on the wonderful job he’s done mounting this King project, I’m moving it to the top of my list. His take on the material here is about as faithful as any King fan could hope for, and he’s managed to avoid many of the pitfalls other King films have not, when filmmakers have attempted to put their own “stamp” on things or tried to use innovative techniques – lots of bells and whistles – when they weren’t necessary. Sometimes, the tale is good enough on its own that all you have to do is stand back a bit and let it ‘breathe’, and Hilditch has made all the right calls doing just that. Although if I recall it correctly from the original story, the ending here departs somewhat from what I remember, but not in a way that’s jarring or uncharacteristic of one of America’s favorite Masters Of Horror.
“1922” is another one I gladly recommend, and give it three-and-a-half out of five stars.