Jul 29, 2023

This Stephen King Movie Gave Us A Criminally Underrated Performance

This diabolical but brilliant performance will haunt viewers long after watching...

Stephen King's works of fiction have time and again provided a wealth of written material for tortured and monstrous characters in their adaptations, and one translation to film, in particular, stands out as containing an especially explosive and beguiling performance from its lead actor that still goes underrated. The King novella in question is 1922, and the lead star of the movie adaptation is Thomas Jane, who plays the tortured and corrupted protagonist Wilfred James. Directed and written for the screen by Zak Hilditch, the film slowly builds in momentum, delving into the recesses of humans' aptitude for darkness, and the subsequent stark, maddening consequences. These twisted themes are carried perfectly and powerfully by Jane's enactment of the tough-as-nails, weather-beaten farmer Wilf.

Perhaps the most shocking thing about Jane's portrayal of Wilf is that he melds evil and human fallibility so expertly. As well as fitting the role of protagonist, ​​​​Wilf also acts as narrator in 1922, recounting his previous crimes which led to his family's complete ruin and his own damnation. The conflict is established at the beginning of the movie when he and his son Henry (in an impressive rendition by Dylan Schmid) want to stay put on the farm, whereas his wife Arlette (Molly Parker) intends to sell the land that she inherited and move to the city. Wilf's utter disgust at this plan, which could strip him of his sense of purpose, leads him to an abysmal scheme to murder Arlette. Recruiting his son for help with the grisly task, he completes it with an air of grim necessity, not acknowledging the truly monstrous nature of his actions, especially roping his previously innocent 14-year-old son into aiding in the murder of his own mother. Jane performs these tasks in a practical, premeditated way as if they are a necessary evil and with a simmering anger which reveals the depths of his character's toxic hatred for his wife.

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The beauty of Jane's performance, however, lies in its ambiguity. Whilst it's logical to denounce his character as wholly immoral and even soulless due to his corrupt actions, there are unnerving glimpses of humanity, making his choices all the more confounding and haunting. In contrast to the wrongness of embroiling his son in the murder of his own mother, Jane's subtly insightful performance reveals the love and understanding Wilf has for his son. He cares about Henry's budding relationship with a neighboring farmer's daughter and deeply mourns his loss when Henry dies tragically. These contradictory events beg the question: If a person can possess this much love for one family member, how can they commit such heinous acts on another? In this way, Jane's portrayal highlights the contradictory nature inherent in human beings, themes that are explored in many of King's works with a disturbing, existential quality.

In a movie that is such a slow-burn, Jane upholds the non-flashy tempo which trades in cheap scares for true horror. As sure as he is of his actions at the beginning of the film, Wilf's confidence falters, and he increasingly becomes paranoid and potentially delusional. Thomas Jane brilliantly depicts this slow descent into guilt and possible madness, accurately enacting how a person would likely become unraveled not in just one frenzied moment, but slowly and incrementally. He sees the ghost of his wife with increasing frequency and visualizes hordes of rats around the farm, reflecting those that horrifyingly surrounded Arlette's lifeless form which was unceremoniously discarded to the bottom of the well. Jane's potent expressions of shock, fear, and wide-eyed agony all convey the torment his character endures, made even more bitter as this disaster was wrought by his own hands. A man hunted and haunted by his diabolical actions, Jane transforms from a character informed by conviction into one who is maddened by justly ghoulish retribution.

"In the end, we all get caught," Wilf calmly states when he meets his downfall. He accepts his end without putting up a fight, in acknowledgment of the carnage he has instigated. Already evocative in its unflinching writing, this conclusion is made more profound by Jane's reading of the character. By beginning the movie evoking an all-consuming hatred, which moves gradually into harassed paranoia, and ends finally in deep regret coupled with resignation to the situation Wilf has brought on himself, Jane encapsulates all the dreadful states possible to a human being. With his family deceased and his farm in shambles, Wilf is left with nothing, and Jane reflects this in every second of the movie in his strained and hounded countenance. In a film that is unrelentingly bleak in its plot and themes, Thomas Jane delivers a formidable performance that enriches the movie with thought-provoking layers of interpretation.

Catch the darkly twisted plot of 1922 on Netflix, ahead of the upcoming prequel to Stephen King's Pet Sematary, Pet Sematary: Bloodlines, which is out later this year.

Stephen KingThomas JaneZak HilditchDylan SchmidMolly ParkerPet SemataryPet Sematary: Bloodlines