Stephen King’s 1922: Gothic, stylistic horror
Ask any student at PSU what TV show they’re watching right now and there’s a very good chance they’ll say “Stranger Things” season 2. Set in the 1980s, its fast paced storytelling and otherworldly elements blend seamlessly, resulting in a strange, harrowing, viewing experience comparable to Stephen King’s “IT.” Since its release only a few days ago, the series’ second season has already generated an impressive buzz, and for good reason. “Stranger Things” is undoubtedly one of Netflix’s best original series. But given how addicting the show is, and how it only has 9 new episodes, “Stranger Things” is one of the easiest to binge shows available, meaning that many of us have already finished the series and now must find something else for us to obsess over. Fortunately, Netflix has another film in its library that came out a few weeks ago, and which also takes inspiration from Stephen King: “1922.”
This is a much more mature story than that of “Stranger Things”; in fact, it’s much more in line with the film “IT.” But in terms of style and genre, this and “Stranger Things” are very similar to one another. Fans of the horror aspects of “Stranger Things” will definitely enjoy this film; fans of the characters and their relationships… may just want to wait for season 3. “1922” is a gothic period horror piece, set in 1922, and focused the dynamic of a small farming family, and the father’s spiraling descent into madness.
On the surface, the story is very straightforward. It centers on Wilfred James, a simple-minded, arrogant, man whose aspirations don’t go much further than tending to his crops and animals. However, his wife Arlette has bigger dreams: to move to the city— with or without Wilfred— and bring their son Henry with her. Wilfred won’t let the life that he knows and loves come to an end, so he manipulates his son, forcing him to help him in his plan to murder Arlette.
Like with most of Stephen King’s work, there is a deeper, much subtler theme in play behind the action and gore. The film thematically tackles guilt, consequence, and loneliness. Wilfred, arguably the villain, derives his disturbed mentality from a place of incredible, genuine love; his crimes aren’t crimes of passion, but crimes of compassion. There is a lot more going on than a simple plot summary could ever explain, especially when avoiding spoilers. But I will say that what this movie does best is make the mundane enthralling.
One of the most fascinating aspects of “1922” is how it uses certain animals to symbolize abstract concepts like death and madness. It’s a simple, contained story, but even in such a small space, it can often feel like the weight of the whole world is bearing down on the James family.
Don’t expect any major action beats or scares to come out immediately, or even within the first 20 minutes. This is a slow rolling piece — but its payoff is very much worth the build up. The director, Zak Hilditch, strikes the perfect balance of mundanity without ever bordering on boring. He keeps the story moving at an interesting pace and doesn’t have to rely on cheap tricks or scares in order to create a unsettling ambiance. The music and lighting help to create a feeling of uneasiness early on, but it’s the cast’s performances which really make this movie work. Thomas Jane, Neal McDonough, and Molly Parker nail their roles as the respective members for the family. They all bring subtle nuances to their characters, they’re all flawed, all hard to like at times, and all refreshingly human.
I will give a word of warning: while this movie doesn’t have many moments of violence, the onscreen violence it does show is deeply disturbing. Going alongside that, there are some very disturbing images played throughout the film as well, especially involving rats. The violence, horror, and gore are all stylistic and deeply impact the message of the film, but this certainly isn’t a movie suitable for everyone. Still, fans of horror, Stephen King, and even “Stranger Things” will likely enjoy this movie a great deal, as it is one of the best adaptions of a Stephen King novel to date.