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Netflix’s “1922” Does Stephen King’s Novella Proud

Hey! This is Candice and Mark with Cheektogeek.com, and we just watched “1922.” It's a Netflix original film based on a novella written by Stephen King, and it’s actually a story that Mark and I had read probably a couple years ago, and I just remember reading it then and being absolutely captivated with that story. I think we read it maybe in one night, but it just always seemed like Stephen King's take on Edgar Allan Poe. It was very “Cask of Amontillado” and “The Tell-Tale Heart. Stories told from like the murderer’s perspective where they're driven mad by guilt, and I don't know if we can have this discussion without spoilers, but Mark, what did you think about the film?

 

Mark says

It’s set in a very specific era. 1922, you have to think pre–Great Depression, Nebraska, salt-of-the-earth farmer types, and I don't know if you picked up on it, but that was Thomas Jane as the lead actor, and he is every bit the photos from that era--gaunt, angular, awkward…

 

Candice says

Sunburnt

 

Mark says

Weathered. It's really going to be viewed I think as people look at his body of work as a transformative role where he dove into looking so much the part that if you put it side-by-side with some of the other films he's been in, it wouldn't be recognizable as him.

 

Candice says

No, I actually looked at his IMDB while I was watching the film, trying to figure out what else I had seen him in, and then when I realize it, I thought, “Wow, that looks nothing like him.” I can’t even imagine how much weight he lost for that role.

 

Mark says

He held his jaw in a very specific way when he spoke. It wasn’t like an open mouth like in normal conversation. It was very much like a clenched jaw, sorta scowly delivery, so even his way of speaking, not just the accent, but the way that he held himself when he spoke was different. And for those of you who don’t know, this is not the first Stephen King project that he’s been involved in.

 

Candice says

He was in “The Mist.”

 

Mark says

He played the father in that film, and he’s got a great appreciation and respect for Stephen King, so I can only imagine that’s what drove him to dive so fully into changing himself for this role. And that was the thing that struck me first and foremost through the beginning of the film, how he embodied that character.

 

Candice says

He did such an amazing job playing the role of Wilfred James. I feel like the whole movies relies on his performance, because it’s all from his perspective. There’s so few other characters in the movie that he really had to carry the weight of all of it. And I just thought that he did a fantastic job.

 

Mark says

He is both the narrator and the central character simultaneously, so the whole thing does revolve around him. And you have to think that without a real strong performance, it wouldn’t have worked because he also has to be sympathetic. You have to understand why he does what he does and why his decisions are what they are without seeing him as the stereotypes that we think about people who live in rural America and people who don't have college educationsg. Because portraying a farmer, the temptation is so strong to play them as a stupid yokel, but Wilfred is not uneducated. He has a very particular mannerism in the way he speaks. He has a very straightforward and simple delivery, but you really get the feeling that it’s because he doesn’t like affectation or ornamentation when he’s speaking. He is very much talking the way that he feels is appropriate for himself.

 

Candice says

I thought the film was extremely faithful to the source novella, and the story is like a Greek tragedy that's occurring in Nebraska, where you have a character who has this one very central flaw. I would say Wilfred’s was pride. Then the story is ultimately demonstrating that character’s downfall. I absolutely love the story; it was such masterful storytelling that really all the film makers had to do was follow the story and they were going to make a good movie.

 

Mark says

From what I recall, the only changes that they made were some condensing of events, which is completely reasonable. It's easier to adapt a novella versus one of any of Stephen King’s novels (his better known ones are enormous) because it's already quite pared down to a central idea, and you have long maintained that you felt like that Stephen King excels at the short form even more than his novels.

 

Candice says

I feel like Stephen King has this tendency to overindulge in a novel form. Just from reading “On Writing” and reading about his process and that he basically for a lot of his early novels would just sit down at a typewriter and start typing and not really have a plan for what he was going to do, I think that's apparent in some of his books that he's figuring it out as he's writing. I don't really know what his rewrite or editing process is for his books, but a lot of times, especially once he became so famous and well-known, people were hesitant to edit him and were just like, “You're the master of horror. We’ll let you do whatever you want,” and I think still in a lot of cases, it was to the detriment of the story. I also think in this novella, I remember there was an epilogue that tied the story together, where it broke perspective from the main character and then kind of told you what happened after the end of the story, and I'm so glad that they cut that from this. I think that was actually a place where the recent adaptation of his other novel “Gerald's Game” that Netflix adapted went wrong to a degree, because that movie just felt like it kept going at the end well past where it should have. I felt that this story was just perfectly told.

 

Mark says

I liked “Gerald’s Game” a lot, but I feel like this stands much closer to the novellas that got adapted from the same time period: “The Green Mile” and “The Shawshank Redemption.” Both of those are interesting works, and the three of these could be seen as an Americana anthology. It’s very intriguing thing to look at them and compare them, because in each case, you have a character who is flawed and sympathetic and you have something that happens that could be considered supernatural. Did you think something supernatural happened or was this part of the psychology of the characters?

 

Candice says

That’s something you will never know. Anytime that you have a first-person narration from one person’s perspective, then you have to realize that you might have an unreliable narrator whose perceptions can’t be trusted. So it’s hard to say if the things that were happening were actually happening or if he was just going crazy. When this movie actually went through the festival circuit, it was one of the movies that played at Fantastic Fest, and I just heard people’s opinion of it when it played that it wasn’t that much of a horror movie and that it seemed more like a psychological thriller or horror. And I think that people interpreted that they were watching this man’s descent into madness. And there was definitely a lot of body horror in the movie. I felt uncomfortable. [laughs]

 

Mark says

Both of those things that you just described could also be said of “Gerald’s Game.”

 

Candice says

Yes.

 

Mark says

It seems to be largely psychological, and the horrific things that happen are things that happen to people to be in real life—accidents and physical ailments do befall people. But because of the way the lens stays on it when it happens, that what’s horrifying. I would definitely call this movie horror.

 

Candice says

Oh, I would too.

 

Mark says

There is an anticipation for each of the more shocking events that happen on screen that you don’t normally have in real life. I have been hurt before, and I have been injured, and generally it just sort of comes out of nowhere and then you deal with it, but in a horror setting, you almost lovingly gaze on the thing that happens in a way that really focuses on what is so abnormal about things. Something as simple as being cut and bleeding takes on a whole new feeling when the camera lingers on the wound and the blood and you realize that we're not meant to do this. So I think for that reason, the way it's shot and the way the scenes happen, I don't think you can call it anything but horror, but not in terms of a slasher movie or a supernatural monster movie. This is much more, and I think to its credit, about the characters and how their personalities led them to the situation than about them being moved by some external supernatural force.

 

Candice says

I agree. Like I said, I had not seen the movie when it played at Fantastic Fest, but having seen it now, I definitely agree that it is 100% horror. And especially even just the way there are traditional horror elements like the music that they used in this movie. There was this one sound that they kept playing over and over, and it almost sounded like knives scraping each other.

 

Mark says

It was like strings of a violin screaming almost.

 

Candice says

Honestly every time it would happen, I would get an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.

 

Mark says

It creates that nails on a chalk board feeling. Like that sound that would vibrate inside of you, and it’s supposed to be unsettling, and I think the sound design on this film is very good for that reason. Because even without seeing things, you can be uneasy. And I think it happens both at the very beginning of the film and the end of the film, and I think that is an intentional bookending that the director did to leave you on that note of being unsettled. So I definitely have to give them credit for that. But one thing that I will say, at the risk of pontificating about the state of horror films, and horror is not necessarily my favorite genre or a genre that I’m an expert on, but when you look at what has happened over the last decade or so, we definitely had this movement toward found footage horror movies that were quickly and cheaply made and that didn't focus on cinematography or sound design or any of those elements. You had the “Paranormal Activity” movies that they were cranking out left and right, and what made those movies scary were jump scares, and it really doesn't matter who the characters are. It could happen to anybody, and I guess to some people that what’s scary about it. These are just average people that happen to be having something weird happening to them, but I am so impressed with the films that seem to be getting made in the last two years or so that really focus on who these characters are and why they're in the situation. I think that the more of those types of the films that get made, the more I want to support them, because I don't know that I'll ever be scared by a horror movie, but I absolutely can be intrigued and watch the characters descend into that pit. For me, that is maybe unsettling, if not scary, and it's still worth the ride for me.

 

Candice says

In this story, like you mentioned before, there is no clear monster or villain, and it's honestly like you feel compassion actually for every character in the story, even the narrator. I think that's because generally in fiction, you have different possibilities for conflict: man versus man, man versus self, man versus nature, or man versus God. I feel like this movie actually falls into man versus God simply because I think the villain in the story was inevitability, and Wilfred made a prideful attempt to change the direction of something, when there was an obvious alternative. Yet he chose to do something extremely terrible to get out of that. Then we see how his life still led him in the end to exactly where he would have been had he not done it. I feel like that was the horror of the story. We're all hamsters in a wheel, and there's no way to get out of this kind of predetermination.

 

Mark says

So it brings up a very interesting reference. What's the phrase that they always say? The best laid plans of mice and men….

 

Candice says

Oh my god, I hadn't even thought about that! Because rats played into that story a lot. [laughs] There were so many rats.

 

Mark says

“Mice and Men” is also set in this era. And so I think Stephen King clicked into these ideas and connected them, and that's something that we’ve seen a bunch recently. “Blade Runner 2049,” “Alien Covenant,” they are both intertextual and make reference to other works of art as a means to communicate bigger ideas, and this is one of those. So if you're someone who has experience with and an interest in that sort thing, then this will appeal to you, and if you're looking for something that doesn't lead to those thoughts, you probably will be bored. I would throw out there that he has knowingly borrowed those thoughts and worked them into this narrative and the director picked up on them and used them as well.

 

Candice says

I hope people wouldn’t be bored by this. I just think that people’s expectations need to be appropriately tempered, because if you go into this thinking, "That’s based on a Stephen King novella, and so I can expect x, y, or z based on what I've seen in, for example, 'It,' 'Pet Sematary,' and all those sorts of stories," then you will be disappointed, and you will be waiting for something more to happen.

 

Mark say

But think an apt comparison would be to the first half of “The Shining” or the first half of “It,” where it’s establishing who these characters are and how they’ve come to this situation that is abnormal. Don’t think about the more action-oriented aspects of those works, because this is slow.

 

Candice says

Although there is plenty of gross.

 

Mark says

Yes, but it punctuates sections of the movie rather than permeates them.

 

Candice says

Oh, that’s a good way to put it.

 

Mark says

It happens after you have a long poetic section of character development and then something awful will happen, and then we go back to the characters and watch them respond. This mirrors the source material beautifully but also I think that it’s the kind of filmmaking this is, and I’m very impressed with that. I think it’s a rare find these days to build your film around that rhythm instead of building the entire narrative around jump scares and monsters and the oogie-boogie mentality that you get in a lot of films that are meant to go to theater and make their big budgets back.

 

Candice say

I’m just so happy that we have so many more Stephen King adaptations to look forward to. There's a lot of them that are going to be coming out in the next few years, so I think we have a ton of stuff to be excited about if as capable of filmmakers keep producing this caliber work, because I thought this movie was just amazing.

 

Mark says

And to be timely for those of you who are Stephen King fans, the conversation this weekend has been that they're going to proceed with a “Gunslinger” miniseries. It will probably appear on one of these streaming services and therefore be able to be R-rated, more mature, and more appropriately grotesque. It will ignore the film that came out this last summer and be its own standalone adaptation of that material, and if it is approached with this kind of love and care that went into “1922” and “It,” I can't imagine that it won't be a beautiful adaptation of his vision.

 

Candice says

I’m glad that they’re giving that story a second chance. So everyone if you have a moment to Netflix and chill, you should definitely watch “1922.” It just got released on Netflix streaming service October 20. Definitely check that out, and if you want to join us in our discussion, message us in the comment section below, and also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Mark and Candice

Mark and Candice

Sometimes the best part of reading an article online is engaging in a conversation in the comment section. However, discussions involving opposing points of view between strangers can devolve into a toxic environment. So what if these conversations were had between two people who loved each other?

At Cheek to Geek, our contributors consist of a diverse group of couples who are steeped in geek and popular culture. Our reviews reflect the back-and-forth, opposing or concurring, debates that geeks are notorious for having. But our founders, Mark and Candice Roma, have always felt that the love and respect felt for certain fandoms should carry over into the way we discuss them. Candice hopes that by modeling fruitful and productive discourses in our blogs, vlogs, and podcasts that we can show our readers the value in having disparate opinions and that differing perspectives don’t have to lead to hostile confrontation. “Mark and I have been together almost nine years, and every time we go see a movie, read book, go to a new restaurant, or see something awesome, we immediately ask what the other one thought. We don’t always agree, but having a conversation with my husband is my favorite part of experiencing something new.”

Although Cheek to Geek focuses on the opinions of specific couples, Mark believes that our vision for the site will extend far beyond that. “Ultimately the goal of art is to communicate, and the goal of communication is to build a community.” Our mission is to create a positive, inclusive, and safe environment for the appreciation and discussion of popular art in all its forms. 

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