The year 2017 has been an up and down one for Stephen King adaptations. While there were The Dark Tower and The Mist series, there was also the well-received Mr. Mercedes and the newly-crowned most successful Horror film ever, IT. Because of all this, Hollywood seems to have a renewed interest in King’s work, and there is more coming down the pipe before the year is out.
One of the most anticipated is the long awaited film of Gerald’s Game. Based on his 1992 novel, it is often cited as a fan-favorite and one of his more twisted stories, which says a lot considering the body of work. Premiering on September 29th on Netflix, Gerald’s Game proves to be an excellent adaptation overall, and while it has some changes from the book, it captures the suspense and psychological terror King created in the novel.
Directed by Horror veteran Mike Flanagan (Oculus 2013, Ouija: Origin of Evil 2016), the premise of Gerald’s Game is simple. A lawyer and his trophy wife embark on a weekend getaway to respark their fading marriage. As part of the revival, Gerald Burlingame, the husband, plans some kinky bedroom role-playing which involves him handcuffing his wife, Jessie, to the bed. Jessie is reluctant but agrees to his ‘game,’ but quickly realizes that it makes her very uncomfortable and orders Gerald to uncuff her. Just then, Gerald suffers a fatal heart attack, falling off the bed and leaving Jessie helplessly cuffed in nothing but her nightgown.
What follows are Jessie’s increasingly desperate attempts to find a way to free herself not just from the handcuffs, but dealing with hunger, dehydration, and hallucinations as she is forced to face her innermost fears and childhood trauma all alone. As if this was not enough, there is a loose dog who find its way into the room, as well as a terrifying stranger who collects bones and trinkets, and who may or may not be real. Jessie tries everything from breaking the wood on the headboard, to knocking a glass of water off a shelf above her to free herself, but as her frustration grows, her mental state deteriorates. She begins to see Gerald in the room with her, even though he is really dead on the floor, and they discuss their marriage and where it all went wrong. These conversations serve as a catharsis for her as well as motivation to think and act quickly because no one is coming to help her and she will be too weak to move sooner than later.
There is also a very disturbing flashback to her pre-teen years of the abuse she suffered from her father, which would shape her interactions with men for the rest of her life. That said, this is not a movie filled with thrills, but rather a well-paced Psychological Drama that accentuates trauma and its effects on a young woman into adulthood, and her journey to save herself from both her past and present.
Flanagan proves again to be highly skilled in capturing the right atmosphere for a suspense story, and also Jessie’s deteriorating sanity. The performances are all excellent, with Carla Gugino (Sin City 2005, Spy Kids films) as Jessie and Bruce Greenwood (I, Robot 2004, Star Trek 2009) as the titular Gerald taking on the lion’s share of screen time. Gugino perfectly captures Jessie, who is always vulnerable but never totally helpless thanks to her mental toughness and grit.
Likewise, Greenwood’s performance is exactly how Gerald should be, a man who is hopelessly obtuse about his marriage and lack of meaningful connection with his wife. This is seen somewhat in the beginning, but really takes off after his death and Jessie’s subsequent hallucinogenic interactions with him. A mention must also go to Dutch Actor Carel Struycken (The Addams Family 1991, Twin Peaks series) who is absolutely terrifying as the mysterious Moonlight Man. Standing at 7 feet tall, it does not take much for him to intimidate, but his body language and the makeup effects ensure a faithful portrayal of the scariest character in the story.
For those who compare books to the films, there are a few differences. The main one is that Gerald is still older but a fit and attractive man, where in the book he is a fat, gluttonous pervert who never approaches likeable. Jessie’s reaction to Gerald’s twisted fantasy is more aggressive in the book, but this does not affect the story or characters much. The movie has a sense of reconciliation between Jessie and Gerald that while not present in the books, adds to the main theme of Jessie’s personal redemption. Fans will be glad to know that the book’s most harrowing scene of Jessie finally freeing herself is there in all its glory, and will no doubt make many viewers cringe or look away.
Gerald’s Game is an overall excellent adaptation, with strong performances, great directing, and a script that never lets the audience look away. This is a proper Suspense story with the right amount of scares at the right times, and an atmosphere so thick with desperation you can cut it with a knife. Gerald’s Game is brand new, but might have already earned itself a spot on the top ten list of Stephen King film adaptations. A good year for King fans continues, and CrypticRock gives this movie 4.5 out of 5 stars.