Gerald’s Game, 2017.
Directed by Mike Flanagan.
Starring Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Chiara Aurelia, Henry Thomas, Kate Siegel, and Carel Struycken.
A middle-aged couple’s weekend away to solve their marital issues is brought to a startling halt when, during a sex game, the husband has a heart attack, leaving his wife handcuffed to a bed with nothing but her dead husband and a hungry dog to keep her company.
After the critical and financial disaster of The Dark Tower, the reasonable success of the TV adaptation of The Mist and It officially becoming the highest grossing horror movie of all time this week, 2017’s obsession with Stephen King adaptations doesn’t look set to stop anytime soon, with Netflix now throwing their hat into the ring with an adaptation of Gerald’s Game.
Of all the King novels that have been adapted this year, Gerald’s Game is perhaps the least known. Written in what is considered by many to have been a lull period for the writer, the story is, in a lot of ways, very different from what fans have come to expect from King – playing out like a Hitchcockian thriller, as opposed to an out and out horror. It is that element of surprise that works massively in the movie’s favour here, with Gerald’s Game being arguably the best King adaptation of 2017.
The premise is simple: a couple take a weekend away to resolve their marital issues, only for the husband to have a heart attack while the wife is handcuffed to the bed, leaving her isolated in a cottage in the woods, with only a dog and the body of her dead husband for company.
The set-up itself is distressing enough, but what unravels is even more terrifying. Soon, all of her fears began to manifest themselves as she slowly but surely loses her mind over the course of a few days, being forced to face her past and all the horrors it brings.
As you will have probably presumed from the plot, the vast majority of this movie all takes place in one location – a holiday rental cottage’s bedroom. Director Mike Flanagan of course has experience with this – he helmed the hugely successful Hush and Gerald’s Game draws a lot of inspiration from that. Both movies feature a woman trapped in one location, facing fears that are seemingly inescapable, with no contact with the outside world and the spectre of dangerous men leaning over them. Like Hush, Gerald’s Game manages to use this situation massively to its advantage, forcing the women to do often horrendous things with what little resources it has. Flanagan’s movies have a knack of forcing you to ask yourself what you would do in these situations, and it’s that realisation of hopelessness that terrifies you more than any sort of demented killer could ever do.
The best scenes here come when Jessie, played spectacularly by Carla Gugino, is forced to confront her deepest darkest fears. Two scenes in particular – one involving a total eclipse and another a glass full of water, which I won’t spoil for you – are particularly difficult to watch and are expertly directed by Flanagan, who knows exactly how to get under a viewer’s skin without relying on any sort of jump scares.
Gerald’s Game, unlike a lot of King adaptations, doesn’t have a clear antagonist; its sole focus is on Jessie’s mental breakdown and, by avoiding these King tropes, the movie, and its audience, reap the rewards. Initial questions about whether the movie’s premise could handle a 100-minute runtime were efficiently disposed of, as Flanagan just continues to add intricate layers to his central characters, all of which feels surprisingly organic.
Gugino’s performance is also a career best here. We see her transform from a suburban, attractive housewife, into a desperate, beaten woman who will do whatever it takes to survive and Gugino pulls off both elements of the character beautifully. Along with Flanagan’s expertly crafted sense of dread, she is the star of the show here. That isn’t to say, Bruce Greenwood, who plays the titular Gerald doesn’t deserve some credit here too – he captures Gerald’s charming but controlling demeanour expertly and his presence adds real intensity and dread to the whole movie.
One issue you may encounter with Gerald’s Game is with the ending, and ultimately, that will depend on your relationship with Stephen King’s endings in general. The final ten minutes of this film feel out of place and, in my opinion, there was a distinctive moment where the movie should have ended, leaving the audience questioning the unknown as opposed to trying to wrap up everything up nicely. Gerald’s Game is 90 minutes of an outstanding movie and 10 minutes of convoluted nonsense; despite it all its hard work, it really fails to stick its landing.
2017 has seen a lot of Stephen King adaptations, but none that are as effective as Gerald’s Game, a quietly disturbing movie that is guaranteed to keep you up that night.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★★ Movie: ★★★★
Liam Hoofe is a freelance writer and teacher based in Madrid. You can follow him on Twitter @liamhoofe