Friday, October 27, 2017

The Halloween List: Stephen King's 1922 and Creep 2

Stephen King’s 1922 (2017)

After the shocking hit of Gerald’s Game, I had to watch Netflix’s other big King adaptation. I am a huge King fan. A decade ago I began limiting myself to reading one King book per year so I wouldn’t run out. Yet I honestly don’t remember this novella from Full Dark, No Stars. Even by the end of the movie, nothing shook loose.

It is certainly a King story. A loveless farm marriage threatens to break up when the wife wants to sell a large chunk of the land that’s legally hers. The husband (Thomas Jane) bides his time, then kills her and dumps the body in a nearby well, covering his tracks and manipulating their son into being an accomplice. The law wants to know where she was, and while the father keeps them away, rats have started climbing out of the well and following him.

You can see this murder coming from the first minute, and the first act drags. I don’t know the kind of person that enjoys such openings. There are minimal emotional stakes when two characters who don’t like each other come into conflict. The murder is gruesome without too much gore, uncomfortable in the right way to show the evil of such an act. If you wait it out to that, then the movie rewards you with a slow burning suspense.

Unsurprisingly, the movie gets stronger from there, with the intrigue of who is looking for the mother, and just what else might crawl out of the well. This is clearly what the director was looking forward to shooting. There are possibly clues on the property for a snoop or the sheriff to find, and the father is darkly clever in how he tries to cover them up. It keeps unfolding into a tragedy that he richly deserves, and the ending is as foregone as the opening. If you want that kind of agonizing revenge story against a bad man, Netflix made one for you.

Thomas Jane carries the movie by descending deeply into character. I watched it with an actor who pointed out Jane barely ever moves his jaw when he talks. He is bitterly reserved, even with friends and loved ones, in a way Jane has never been before. The movie could not work without a performance as severe as his.

Jane’s sincere performance leads into the most interesting feature of the movie. Because he leads a life of anticipating unknowable tragedy, bracing for it and even cracking up as he waits, the movie adds to his internal life with several cut-away shots to what he’s imagining or remembering. The early ones are jarring, especially when he imagines the idyllic ways characters must behave when he’s not around, posing and polishing cars. Other times, like during the fallout with his son, casually remembering the time his son pretended a pitchfork was a rifle and aimed it at him as a joke, are terrifically pointed snatches of character.

Creep 2 (2017)

I’ve put this movie second today because I don’t want people skimming spoilers by accident. You cannot appreciate Creep 2 without watching the first one, and even the trailer for the sequel reveals much about the first. Creep 1 was one of the best surprises in last year’s entire Halloween List, and I recommend checking out that review before reading this one.

With that out of the way: few sequels have ever been so willing to change as Creep 2. There will be some Horror fans who hate Creep 2 for not being more of the same.

How could you do Creep 1 all over again, anyway? That film hinged on reveals about what our eponymous creep was really up to. It would take a certain soullessness to do the whole thing again while we were in on the ruse. The prologue of Creep 2 knows this, and serves as a microcosm for the creep’s work. “Aaron” sets up a new victim, goes through the motions of terrorizing him, and then loses steam. The killing has become rote. He has serial killer’s block.

Our POV is Sara, a failing YouTuber whose latest video has nine views. She wants to document and bond with strange people, but as strange as they are, they’re still boring and no one wants to watch. She now doubts that she even has talent. That’s when she sees a personal ad for a guy in need of a videographer.

It helps that she thinks he’s a desperately lonely man lying about a career in murder. But from the moment when he sits her on his sofa and confesses everything, you know this movie is doing something very different. She wants good material, and he wants to feel alive again. It’s an incredible premise.

What I’m still chewing over is the middle of the film. “Aaron” is pathetic, spending scenes yelling about background noise in a shot or unable to get out of a bathtub. Sara has seen so many weirdos in her YouTube career that she doesn’t flinch at his jump scares, and the best parts of the movie are when she groans at how silly he’s being. This steps over the border into dark comedy.

Where it goes is reminiscent of Man Bites Dog; it’s a documentary about two people who don’t know what to do with their lives, and one happens to be a murderer. They form a strange bond while doing very little until the end of the movie. How little they actually do is going to frustrate people. Even I, who loves a slow burn film, wanted the creep to take Sara on a dry run of a kill, or out stalking, or anything to get a real rise and some struggle going on.

Instead, Creep 2 literally creeps towards the two bonding, and the disturbing results of what happens when someone like this feels affection. This is more often funny than frightening.

The masterminds behind this series said they set out to make a trilogy. I’m very curious what the finale will be. They certainly set up a world that should be fun to burn down.

Coming next week: The Halloween List ends with Stranger Things Season 2!

1 comment:

  1. I haven't seen "1922" but from the trailer you shared, I can see that this is a story about a villain getting his comeuppance. Have you read "Thinner?" That's another King story that shows the very dark side of karma.


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