Photography: Netflix

Stephen King's novella about bloody business in Nebraska has been adapted into to a scary and tragic film available for streaming.

A gripping tale of death and damnation in Nebraska farming country, 1922 — now available for streaming on Netflix — is the latest in the seemingly endless series of films based on the works of horror master Stephen King. What sets this adaptation apart from the pack is the emotional heft of writer-director Zak Hilditch’s slow-burning drama, which is more fatalistically tragic than traditionally horrific. (But don’t worry: There’s also plenty of scary stuff here, too.)

Thomas Jane effectively conveys a toxic mix of taciturn rage and amoral calculation as Wilfred James, a tradition-bound man of the land who refuses to let anything, or anyone, threaten his cherished way of life. The movie offers James as an unreliable narrator, holed up in a less-than-deluxe Omaha hotel room as he recalls (and the audience views in flashbacks) the series of terrible events that began in 1922, a few years earlier, when Arlette (Molly Parker), his discontented wife, demanded they sell their farm and move to the big city.

Wilfred refuses to uproot (“Cities,” he insists with unshakable conviction, “are for fools!”), so Arlette proposes an equally unacceptable Plan B that entails divorce, a forced sale of the farm, and her claiming sole custody of Henry (Dylan Schmid), their 14-year-old son. With equal measures of ruthless cunning and paternal authority, Wilfred convinces Henry that they’d be much better off if Arlette were no longer around. And that the best way to make sure she’s out of the picture, permanently, would be to murder her.

As I noted in my Variety review of 1992 filed from Austin’s SXSW Film Festival: “The actual killing of Arlette is rendered with a blunt-force savagery that underscores what emerges as the underlying theme of 1922 — murder is not merely a terrible crime, but an unforgivable mortal sin that will forever curse its perpetrators… In developing this idea, Hilditch takes his cue from King’s novella and neatly balances standard-issue horror-movie tropes (Wilfred is periodically visited by Arlette’s rotting corpse and real or imagined hungry rats) with subtler and more discomforting scenes illustrating unappeasable guilt, mournful regret and resigned acceptance of damnation.

“While Wilfred copes with psychological and physical pain (one of the very real rats bites his hand, with predictably awful results) in snowbound isolation, Henry runs off with Shannon (Kaitlyn Bernard), his pregnant sweetheart, and launches a crime spree that suggests a grim determination that, after you help kill your mother, you’re irredeemably unmoored from petty concerns about right and wrong.”

Here is the official Netflix trailer for 1922 (which, by the way, employs Vancouver locations as reasonable substitutes for urban and rural Nebraska).

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