Released Sept. 29, 2017
Unrated (equivalent to R rating for violence, disturbing themes, sexual content, and language) – 1hr 43min
Directed by Mike Flanagan
Starring Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Henry Thomas
When a married couple, Jessie (Gugino) and Gerald (Greenwood) head to their lake house to rekindle their failing marriage, things go very awry, leaving Gerald dead and Jessie with both arms handcuffed to the bed frame.
A tense ticking-clock thriller focusing on a very personal struggle for survival and sanity. Yet, it isn’t one person alone in a room for its runtime – the story is expanded upon through flashbacks and Jessie’s inner turmoil is represented through conversations with her now-late husband and another version of herself. This is more a suspenseful drama with horror elements than a straight-up genre piece.
Gerald’s Game was never going to be easy to adapt. Of all of Stephen King’s fictional works that were not fantasy, non-collaborative, and not published under his Richard Bachman pseudonym, this book sat on the shelf the longest – 25 years from page to screen. With a protagonist alone and immobilized fighting her inner demons as much as struggling to survive, it was going to take an inventive approach to make it movie material, and Mike Flanagan, for the most part, gets it done.
Flanagan’s previous works, which include Oculus and Hush, demonstrate that he was particularly qualified for this effort, as he often deals with fixed settings, warped realities, and shifting perspectives. Also, he seems to have a good intuition for when to take a minimalist approach and have the acting dominate the scene or let a story unfold at a pace that suits it instead of a pace determined by the studio through market analysis of public opinion. These attributes are all important because Gerald’s Game very likely wouldn’t succeed without them.
However, if Flanagan’s talent and efforts gave the movie its chance, it’s Carla Gugino that makes it work. I’ve always liked her as an actress, but I honestly didn’t know she was an Actress – the kind that should have an armful of award statues. She vividly portrays all the subtle complexities of an emotionally damaged yet externally pleasant person now in a very dire situation – one that is both not her fault but also one that she would not be in had she not been eager to oblige despite her own reluctance. She projects all this turmoil, regret, and terror without once resorting to hysterics. She also plays the role of a physical manifestation of Jessie’s own conscience, so she regularly shares scenes with herself and it never seems awkward or clumsy. Carla Gugino gets an elaborate showcase for her talent in this film, and she doesn’t disappoint.
That doesn’t mean Gerald’s Game is some kind of triumph from start to finish though. 100 minutes is a long time when a solid half of it is ‘woman remains chained to bed while talking to herself’. Again, Gugino is great and part of the ‘talking to herself’ is helped along by Bruce Greenwood as Jessie’s slimy interpretation of Gerald who also represents her own self-doubt, but there is some padding here. One particular scene – a monologue that served as nothing more than an Easter egg callback to another King novel – was particularly irksome. There’s a subplot about a ‘man made of moonlight’ that never quite vibes with the rest of the story. And without spoilers, the ending wasn’t so well executed either. It’s not what happens so much as the presentation of how it happens that just seems flimsy – a trade-off of complexity for simplicity that seems out of tune. All these elements are straight from the novel, but that doesn’t mean they were that good then either. Regardless, this film has a strong argument to be short-listed for Top 5 best King adaptations of all-time.
It also needs to be mentioned that Gerald’s Game is some thematically serious stuff. I don’t think it would be unfair to call it the horror movie for the MeToo movement. A lot more could be said about the character of Jessie, the nature of Gerald’s domineering game, and all the dynamics that lead Jessie into her predicament, but that’s better left as a discussion between people who have seen the movie than to be elaborated upon within a review for it. Just go in knowing that it’s heavy and timely subject matter.
I give Gerald’s Game a