1922 (2017): The Price of Toxic Entitlement

Netflix is the streaming service that is master of the great original shows and the okay to good movies. I have never seen a great movie on Netflix and this good film is a shining of example of a problem I see running through their films, and why they don’t reach that final point that I’ve seen come out of studio films. I’ll get into what I mean later on, as we continue Horror Week with “1922” a film adapted from a Stephen King book of the same name.

The film was written and directed by Zak Hilditch and produced by Ross M. Dinerstein and adapted from the Stephen King book of the same name.

The story involves a farmer named Wilfred (Thomas Jane) who plans to murder his wife in order to own the land and to do it with the help of his teenage son.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Cinematography – This is a beautiful film. Visually it feels like you are inside a dark storybook and the visuals of the ghosts, especially his wife and later his son is haunting. There is great use of the shadows and light to imply danger and I couldn’t look away while watching. It is easily the best looking Netflix film I’ve watched. 

The Cost of Toxic Privilege – This is a film that tackles toxic privilege, specifically in regards to males and masculinity. We see this in how he cares nothing for his wife and her interests and how he immediately plans to kill her when she is moving on and planning to sell the land and move to the city. He gets his son in on it too as his son fears moving away from the girl he’s dating. In both cases both his son and Wilfred get what they want through violence and control. Wilfred kills his wife and his son is robbing stores around the state to take in order to keep being the the neighbor girl. They never see past themselves and no one questions his wife’s disappearance because a wife in the 1920s, “Is a man’s business.” You don’t question the husband. This is toxic privilege and male entitlement and it is the demon that leads to his Wilfred’s end.

The Tragedy of the James Family – The main arc of the story is how Wilfred’s act ruins the family. In killing his wife his son loses his guide and impregnates the neighbor girl who is 14 like him. Together they run away and he becomes a crook before finally dying as all this time his wife’s ghost haunts him and forces him to confess after he losing everything he loves. The act of selfishness and murder based on something as stupid as land are Wilfred’s undoing.

Okay: Wilfred James’s Motivation – Wilfred was a small time farmer and Thomas Jane portrays his “man of the land” mentality beautifully. The problem is I felt like the jump to killing his wife felt so contrived. I get that entitlement, greed and privilege were major motivators of the act but the steps it took him to get there didn’t feel concrete. We needed to see more of their relationship falling apart before he begins justifying what he plans to do.

The Cons: The Character Arc of the Son Henry – His son loves the neighbor girl, he is worried about losing her so he helps his father kill his mother…I know 14 is a stupid age but I never believed his motivation. The fact that the actor isn’t very good doesn’t help. He was easily the weakest part of the story and film.

Most Netflix films are very clear in their themes, have small casts and look great visually. These are all reasons that I appreciate this streaming service as I haven’t ran into too many outright terrible films to come out of Netflix. They also never reach that higher place, often because they fail to develop the motivations of their characters to the fullest degree. “1922” has an amazing cast but I could not tell you fully what the motivation of the son and father was behind the murder. I know what I was told, but it wasn’t explored enough to fully make the impact it should have had. If you like Stephen King, you will probably enjoy this film as I did, just know it could have been more.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10

The Langoliers (1995): A Good Idea that Didn’t Need the Monsters

   “The Langoliers” is an infamous Stephen King film. The Nolstalgia Critic did an early takedown of some of the more hokey aspects of it. This is not a good film, the acting and writing are awkward and it could have been cut way down in length. The thing is though, I don’t hate this film. The core idea and the tone are actually handled really well and the Stephen King theme of people being our own worst enemies is done beautifully given the other limitations listed above. I’ll get into what I mean deeper into the review.

The mini-series was directed by Tom Holland who co-wrote it with Stephen King. The film is inspired by Stephen King’s short story Four Past Midnight.

The story involves a bunch of passengers who find themselves trapped on a plane in which all the passengers have disappeared. From here they must find out what is going on, where the other passengers are and where they’ve been transported to.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Tone – The tone of this tv show is actually pretty great. There is a sense of foreboding, isolation and paranoia. The characters are trapped and it pervades the piece in how the music and scenes are presented. We get scenes of silence where we are in the head of our characters and the mystery author being a major character leaves the trap as something to be un-weaved, increasing the sense of isolation and paranoia.

Isolation and the Consequences of It – Stephen King loves exploring what fear does to people, especially when people are cut off from society. “The Mist” film did this extremely well and the book “The Stand” and even aspects of the Gunslingers world encapsulate this too. This theme is handled decently in this film. We see how isolation drives our characters insane and causes conflict between them, eventually leading to one of the folks who is already unstable, going off the deep end and breaking down, becoming a threat to everyone else who is still alive.

Unseen Terror – We don’t see the Langoliers (the time monsters) until the end and it is the fact that we don’t see them that really helps increase the foreboding tone and sense of isolation. We see time collapsing on itself at one point and that is terrifying enough as our characters are in a race against time and don’t even know if they have a way out. It is in the fact that we don’t know what these creatures are that keep up the tension, we hear them approaching and see how it makes the characters afraid and that is enough.

Exploring the Nature of Time – At the end of the day this is a time travel story. Our crew passes through an event where they find themselves in the past and learn that time gets destroyed by the Langoliers as it catches up to the present and as they pass into the future they realize they can get ahead of the present as well.

The Cons: The Writing – The writing is not very good, it is actually kind of bad. The characters are all tell and no show and it is a major thing that brings the story down. The best parts of this film are when characters are silent or the moments of implication in a backstory. A character not sharing their backstory is when this film is strong. This was co-wrote by Stephen King, but that couldn’t save the problems in the script.

The Performances – The performances are a bit stilted (this is made for television) but some characters are great in just how hammy they are. Bronson Pinchot is enjoyable in how over the top he is and I did enjoy Stockwell’s mystery author. He was the only one who seemed to know what he was doing. A lot of the others felt like they didn’t really know what they were doing.

The Langoliers – The Langoliers are a joke. Special effects of this era in television weren’t good and these creatures are a shining example of it. They clearly look like bad CGI and they aren’t scary in the slightest. The thing is this could have been easily avoided, we should have never seen these things or not had them at all. Time become erased as it comes to the present is a scary enough concept as is without adding badly done teeth monsters. When they popped up on screen I burst out laughing….that’s how bad they look and how all the tension and build up was immediately canceled out.

This was a film that could have been good if it hadn’t shown the Langoliers (or gotten rid of them all together) and with some better casting and writing decisions could have even been a great mini-series. Sadly this is not the reality we are in and it was the length, performances and finally the Langoliers that made this film merely okay. I’m not ready to write it off as I did enjoy the idea and Bronson’s over the top performance coupled with Stockwell’s exploration of unraveling the premise was enjoyable. So I didn’t hate this film, though there is so much that doesn’t work. If you like Stephen King and his works, this is worth checking out for how he explores time but besides that…you have to really enjoy King to get enjoyment from this work. I understand the infamy of this film, even if I don’t share the hate.

Final Score: 6.5 / 10 Not good, but fun.

The Mist (2007): Fantastic Exploration of Human Desperation but Writing and Acting Bring it Down

the-mist

     I am a fan of Stephen King. He has created some of my favorite books and adaptations, from “The Stand” to Kubrick’s “The Shining.” King is a writer who knows how to write what makes people go crazy and what it would take to bring out the worst in people. “The Mist” does that beautifully, while also sadly catching some of his more hokey dialogue and overused tropes. I’ll explain more of what I mean deeper in the review.

     “The Mist” was directed, produced and written by Frank Darabont, with the other producers being Martin Shafer and Liz Glotzer.

   The story involves David (Thomas Jane) and his son trapped in a convenience store after a strange storm cuts off all communication and a mysterious mist moves in. From here he must try to keep the survivors from destroying themselves and figuring out what happened.

The Pros: The Premise – The premise of a bunch of characters trapped in a small town convenience store is pretty cool. You have food, but limited resources, people want to get to those outside of the store and usual human personalities clashing since a store is still a confined space.

The World – The idea of another dimension coming into our own is pretty neat as well as the fear that would come with that from the populace as another world or dimension in ours is a complete unknown.

The Idea of the Characters – We have the artist father, the religious fanatic, the single mother, the old cynical man…these are all great ideas but they never feel fully realized. I do like the character ideas though.

Humans Under Fear – King excels at showing people going mad from a feeling of being trapped or attacked. We see this here as they all distrust one another, a fanatic rises from strange situations she manages to survive, people hang themselves and the main character does a mercy killing on his party so they won’t be killed by the monster that had already killed a few from the town already. People get angry, anxious and act irrational under fear…power plays happen and victims are chosen so there is someone to blame. All that is on display in this film.

The Ending – David kills the members of his party who manage to leave the store with him in his truck. He does this with their consent when they see the big monster and realize everyone they know is dead. What David realizes is after he tries to kill himself and fails since he is out of bullets is the army was only minutes away and all the pain and death could have been avoided with more patience, leaving him a broken man.

Okay: The Characters – The characters are all tropes and never get beyond it. We don’t know why the religious lady is crazy or religious, we don’t know why the old man is cynical, we don’t know why David became an artist or why any of the soldiers were serving on the base where the experiment happened. They exist only as tropes because of this.

The Monsters – The monsters are neat looking and look like Lovercraftian Dinousaurs as most have tentacles and wings. They were never scary though which is why I’m putting them at okay. The mist is scarier than the creatures.

The Cons: The Dialogue – Everyone tells rather than shows…it is part of why the characters only exist as tropes. They tell us their obvious motivation and we never get the why.

The Religious Extremist – Religious extremists in fiction are hard to write…as an agnostic who is pretty atheistic it is easy to make someone you disagree with a strawman and this film never gets beyond that. The extremist is never humanized and is the crazy from the get go. This was a disservice to the plot as she became an antagonist whose motivations were never fully explored.

  This was a decent movie. It wasn’t good by any stretch of the imagination even though I really liked some of the situations the characters were put in. The problem is the characters never managed to get beyond the tropes they existed as. Not a single character was given more depth, they just were and reacted, which was safe but it didn’t contribute to the story in any way and just made some of the awkward dialogue even more obvious. If you are a fan of King, check out this film though. It does do a good job of showing what humans will do when they feel trapped and out of options and that is really where the film excels and manages to be a decent horror film and great contribution to “Horror Month.”

Final Score: 7.5 / 10