Stephen King's '1922' probes toll of murder

Thomas Jane in '1922'

(CNN)In what's already been an absurdly busy year for Stephen King adaptations, "1922" -- a taut, exceedingly spare Netflix movie based on the prolific author's novella -- is a reminder that when it comes to King, bigger isn't always better.

Rightfully compared to the works of Edgar Allan Poe, this gothic thriller zeroes in on the psychological torment associated with a single murder, with Thomas Jane as the Nebraska farmer who must bear the guilt of that mortal sin. It generally works, although probably would have fared even better in a slightly scaled-down package, on the order of an old "The Twilight Zone" episode or, for a more modern-day, in-the-Netflix-family spin, "Black Mirror."
The plot is about as simple as it gets: King's Wilfred James is unhappily married to Arlette (Molly Parker), who inherits some property, but has different ideas of what they should do with it. Wilfred then conspires with his teenage son (Dylan Schmid) to kill her, an act as grisly and botched as his ongoing attempts to cover up a crime that nobody seems particularly interesting in investigating.
As adapted by writer-director Zak Hilditch, "1922" is almost unrelentingly bleak, capturing the remote, dusty nature of the period. But the movie also possesses a dark undercurrent of humor, of the "everything that can go wrong does" variety.
    Narrated by Wilfred, the story bores in on the gnawing toll exacted by taking a single life, as he's visited by visions of his not-so-dearly departed (who "absconded," he tells the sheriff), as well as the horde of rats who join in haunting and tormenting him.
    Better known for more heroic roles, Jane melts into the small, bent creature that is Wilfred, with Neal McDonough and Brian d'Arcy James helping flesh out the modest cast.
    Although King is understandably associated with big supernatural thrills (punctuated this summer by the movies "It" and "The Dark Tower," a hit and flop, respectively), his work has frequently fared better on screen with lower-key, character-driven studies.
    While "1922" doesn't reach the top-tier of those projects, grading on what amounts to the Stephen King curve, it's a credible addition to a filmography where practically every thought the writer commits to paper is, seemingly, deemed fit for the screen.
    "1922" premieres Oct. 20 on Netflix.