It’s been quite the year for Stephen King. Between book releases, owning the internet, and seeing two mammoth adaptations brought to the big screen, the King is in high demand. 2017 doesn’t stop there, though. On October 20th, fans of the author will get to stream the film 1922, based on King’s period piece novella, on Netflix, and as of today they can do the same with Gerald’s Game.
Based on King’s 1992 novel of the same name, Gerald’s Game was adapted for the screen by Mike Flanagan, the director behind critically acclaimed horror films Hush and Ouija: Origin of Evil. The film follows Gerald and Jessie Burlingame, a husband and wife who take a remote retreat in hopes of spicing up their relationship. After handcuffing Jessie to the bed for “harmless” roleplay, Gerald suffers a heart attack and dies, leaving Jessie trapped with the demons of her mind, as well as something sinister that may be lurking in the house.
I was never the biggest fan of King’s novel, probably because I was in middle school when I read it, and this just isn’t the type of horror that appealed to me at the time. I never really had the urge to revisit the story because of that, despite my love for most of the author’s work, but goddamn do I now.
Make no mistake about it, though the film mostly takes place on a bed, Gerald’s Game is a suitably intense and nerve-racking affair. Even leading up to the event of Gerald’s death, Flanagan has crafted a film that feeds on anxiety like a dog to a corpse. I watched the first half of the film through a half-cringe as the scenario became increasingly more nightmarish, and though it begins to drag late in the second act, there’s a specific moment near the end of the film that proves handy in upping the cringe factor once again.
The psychological aspect of the film is riveting, most of which is credited to the powerhouse performance by Carla Gugino as Jessie. Gugino often shines, but this very well could be her most compelling work to date. Bringing a fragility to the role, the actress gains the sympathy of the viewer as she works to find a strength hidden deep within herself, combating both the situation at hand and the heartbreaking suppressed memories of her childhood. What Gugino accomplishes here is stunning and effectively turns a good film into an unforgettable one.
The rest of the cast, though small in size, fills out rather nicely as well. Bruce Greenwood is terrific as Gerald, showcasing a passionate intensity and hard-ass demeanor, especially when Jessie first begins to imagine him alive. The true villain of Gerald’s Game, however, is Jessie’s father, played by Henry Thomas. Long removed are the days of befriending lovable aliens for Thomas, as the E.T. star oozes creepy villainy in Jessie’s childhood flashbacks. The performance is great, but I’ll never look at Thomas the same.
For all Flanagan gets right in this adaptation, however, Gerald’s Game remains an imperfect film. As previously mentioned, the second act drags on a little too long and disrupts the pacing of the film in a manner that slightly lessens the viewer’s investment. The final few moments of the film, too, don’t quite pack the emotional punch that Flanagan had seemingly been leading to, ironically causing the strongest character moment to come across as the film’s weakest note.
Still, flaws intact, Gerald’s Game effectively continues the dominant year of Stephen King, as well as the stellar filmography of Mike Flanagan. Phenomenally acted and tense as all hell, this is a film you shouldn’t miss.