In a year where Dancing Clowns and Mercedes killers have reigned supreme, fans of Stephen King have been spoiled for choice. However, while the likes of IT and Mr Mercedes may number among the author's most horrifying creations, the reality is that Stephen King is at his most scary when exploring the darkness that lurks within us all.
Director Zak Hilditch has tapped into that primal evil all too well in his adaptation of the novella 1922, adding new layers to the original story of a rancher who murders his wife with the help of his son. Of course, this would only work if the actors involved are believable too. Fortunately, Hilditch has assembled an impressive cast, including the likes of Thomas Jane, Molly Parker, and a breakout performance from Kaitlyn Bernard in the role of Shannon Cotterie.
We sat down with Bernard for a spoiler-filled discussion on the Sweetheart Bandits in 1922, and learned more than we expected about performing rats along the way...
Taking Us Back To '1922'
It's not too surprising to hear how Bernard read the original story of 1922 to understand her character better, or even that she immediately related to Shannon's empathy. However, it's not until you hear Kaitlyn and the rest of the cast speak in the film that you realize exactly how much preparation was required of these actors. The Nebraskan accents may be thick and even difficult to understand at times, but they also root the characters in this story. The remote farms upon which each of the characters lived helps shape their identities and it's hard to imagine whether the central murder would have even happened in a different location.
To inhabit the role of Shannon, Bernard rehearsed extensively with Dylan Schmid and Thomas Jane to help perfect that tricky Nebraskan accent:
"Learning a Nebraskan accent from the 1920’s was fun to tackle. It was however worrisome to maintain this quite particular accent for the duration of the shoot, because of the way my scenes were shot. I worked a lot in the first half of the schedule, and then had a big break before coming back to do my remaining scenes. Fortunately, I was able to pick the accent back up with no problem."
The geographical location of the story wasn't the only challenge that Bernard and the crew faced. In order to evoke the era of 1922, costume design also played a key role in making the horror believable:
"The costume department for this film are fantastic. Claudia Da Pointe focused on every tiny detail when it came to costumes. The fabrics in a lot of cases were very delicate and we had to be really careful putting them on."
This focus on detail is particularly important after Shannon and Henry James run away together and became the Sweetheart Bandits. Bernard explained to us how everything from the costumes to the chemistry that she shared with actor Dylan Schmidt channelled the iconography of Bonnie and Clyde:
"When we first started rehearsing, we both felt incredibly connected in a strange sort of way. We were both drawn and entranced by the love and tragedy our two characters share, and in many ways it reminded us of Bonnie and Clyde. Our characters go from being in a pure innocent childhood love to being forced into growing up fast when faced with an adult situation... Without giving anything away, our final scene together was incredible to shoot, partly due to the creepy set location they chose, but also because of the emotional build up and climax to that point in the story."
The Horror Of '1922'
For Bernard, the most challenging aspect of filming 1922 was "showcasing the complexity, the love, and the connection" that Shannon shared with Henry in such a limited amount of time. For audiences though, the real challenge lies in facing the horror that director Zak Hilditch threads into the narrative.
1922 may not take place in Mid-World or the sewers of Derry, but the film is still based on a Stephen King story. It should come as no surprise then that supernatural elements come into play throughout the movie, even if it remains unclear whether they're actually real or not. Chief among these are the rats who infest both the James' house and the mind of Henry James himself.
Bernard explained to us that the rodents were far less unnerving on set than they appeared to be on camera:
"I remember in my first meeting with the director I asked how he was going to shoot those scenes. I was pretty excited to find out there were going to be live rats on set. They had around 70 trained rats for the shoot, were super easy to work with, and surprisingly listened well to direction."
The rats may have been real — at first, anyway — but the supernatural return of Arlette James following her murder remains far more ambiguous. Bernard prefers to keep the nature of Arlett's return open to interpretation, explaining:
"That’s something each viewer has to decide! The best part of psychological thrillers is that they can sometimes be interpreted differently by the audience."
This in turn adds new layers of meaning to the final scene of 1922. Does Wilfred just imagine that Shannon, Arlette and Dylan have risen from the grave or are their fresh corpses really standing before him in the hotel room? Either way, the make-up effects on display are satisfyingly gruesome to behold. Bernard told us that:
"It took around five hours in the prosthetic's chair to finish that look. It was a lot of fun to sit for that process, as it was something I hadn't experienced before."
For Bernard's next role though, her character won't undergo any kind of zombification and will instead move away from horror completely. Classified as a dramedy, the movie Richard Says Goodbye is:
"... about a college professor who is given a life-changing diagnosis which makes him decide to live his life as boldly and freely as possible."
Working with Johnny Depp on the film was a "highlight" for Bernard, but it looks like the young star's career will continue to rise after she takes a lead role in another project called The Healer. The challenge of playing a girl diagnosed with terminal cancer in this movie represents an even more radical departure from the world of horror, but that doesn't mean Bernard will stay away from the genre forever.
After all, the Sweetheart Bandit told us that she loves horror movies, "especially psychological thrillers," so perhaps there's a chance Bernard will return to the world of #StephenKing again one day. Lord knows there's enough adaptations of his work scheduled to hit cinemas soon. In the meantime, check out Kaitlyn Bernard and her co-stars in 1922 on #Netflix to see the most underrated Stephen King adaptation of the year.
What's your favorite scene from '1922'? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!