After a world debut at Fantastic Fest 2017, Gerald’s Game landed on Netflix this past Friday. Hinging on the performances of its two leads, Carla Gugino (Watchmen, San Andreas) and Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek, Flight), the adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name has met with generally favorable reviews. An ambitious project from director Mike Flanagan (Ouija: Origin of Evil, Oculus), Gerald’s Game tells the story of one woman’s struggle to overcome the demons that have eclipsed her entire adult life. While fans may be pleased to see a page-to-screen adaptation of King’s work, Flanagan’s strict adherence to the dialogue he so cherished ultimately hurts the presentation of the film. That said, Gerald’s Game is in no way a poorly made movie. Flanagan’s expert direction and editing is front and center, but it left this viewer hoping he would have taken more risks and delivered the true desperation I had been sold in the film’s premise.
Preparing for a quiet weekend getaway at their country home, Jessie (Carla Gugino) and her husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) have packed only the essentials: A few beach towels, overly expensive steak, and handcuffs. Trying to spice things up in the bedroom, Gerald asks Jessie to play along in his rape fantasy. Arranging to have the gardener and caretaker set up house before their arrival, the stage has been perfectly set for a very private, and secluded weekend alone. With the neighbors away, and the house set far back on the property, there is no one around to impede Gerald’s plans. He is so sure they will be undisturbed in fact, that he does not bother to close the front door when he leads Jessie into the bedroom after taking a little blue pill.
Unfortunately for Gerald, Jessie quickly calls it quits- And unfortunately for Jessie, so does Gerald’s heart. Secured to the bedposts with the keys just out of reach, Jessie is left to fend for herself after Gerald suffers a fatal heart attack. It isn’t until a stray dog comes in through the open door to feast on Gerald that Jessie realizes the severity of the situation. Soon after, under the stress and strain of her predicament, Jessie begins to hallucinate. When “Gerald” is suddenly up-and-about, criticizing and taunting her she knows something is wrong. But when a deformed and monstrous entity appears in the night, Jessie begins to wonder if what she’s seeing is a result of dehydration, or simply the grim specter of death all people face in their final hours.
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Fans have been clamoring for years that adaptations of Stephen King’s work more closely resemble the source material. Unfortunately this is a bit of a double edged sword. Surely there are exceptions, but the medium in which a story is told is usually the only way the creator expected you to consume their material. Alan Moore’s Watchmen might be a perfect example, but Gerald’s Game is probably a much better choice. The key components of King’s 1992 novel have been (until very recently) considered un-filmable. Not necessarily because of the sexual assault at the core of the film, but because the narrative is almost solely Jessie’s inner-monologue. While Flanagan found a simple and visual method of showing us the voices swirling around Jessie’s head, staying too closely to the original text is not always a strong choice. In fact, in a recent interview with Vulture King touched on studios developing films from his work.
I think that sometimes when people buy a book, they just want the situation and then they’ll build the movie off it. […] With Gerald’s Game and 1922, they both follow the course of the books pretty closely, and the films that these guys made stand and fall on that.
Flanagan does an incredible job adapting King’s material for the screen, even though some plot points would have been better left on the page. You really want to applaud Flanagan for staying so true to the book but I found myself wishing the credits had rolled ten minutes sooner, cutting out a wrap-up section that completely pulled me out of the movie. That said, this is one of more positively received adaptations of Stephen King’s work this year, with some incredible use of practical special effects toward the end of the film.
If you’ve already watched Gerald’s Game yourself, and you are looking for a more in depth conversation on some of the film’s finer points, subscribe to the Nightmare on Film Street podcast to download our upcoming review! Hear our full thoughts on Thursday’s episode as well our recommendations from 2017’s Fantastic Fest.