With the likes of big-screen outings It and The Dark Tower, TV shows Mr. Mercedes and The Mist, and Netflix features 1922 and Gerald’s Game, 2017 is up there among the biggest years Stephen King has ever had – adaptation wise.
Of all those titles, Gerald’s Game is a cut above the rest. King’s 1992 novel was once deemed to be unadaptable, and yet with a focused screenplay and an acute attention to detail it comes to us in a very tidy package: an abundance of thrills, disturbing themes and absolutely terrifying imagery.
Jessie (Carla Gugino) and Gerald Burlingame (Bruce Greenwood) are a married couple spending a weekend away at their holiday house. In an attempt to save their struggling marriage they use their time to play out some of Gerald’s wilder fantasies. He handcuffs her to the bedposts and begins to have his way with her, only to suffer a fatal heart attack, leaving Jessie bound to the bed and unable to free herself. Miles from the nearest help, she must rely on her own wits to survive the ordeal, which includes hallucinations, manifestations and buried secrets.
The synopsis alone is classic “King” and his story plays out like a wicked blending of Misery and Dolores Claiborne. The one-room, bed-ridden premise, and the grim themes of child-molestation, makes Gerald’s Game challenging stuff to say the least, and director Mike Flanagan (Ouija: Origin of Evil) handles Jessie’s story effectively as it alternates between her reality, her imagination and her memories of the past. Many may have thought King’s novel challenging to adapt, but Flanagan comes to the material with a full understanding of the value of production design, and the necessary skills to navigate his way around challenging concepts (his 2016 thriller Hush, also distributed by Netflix, was a predominantly silent film).
Gugino delivers a knock-out performance that ought to earn her much acclaim (yet, sadly, probably wont). She spends the entire duration of the film in the compromised position of being handcuffed to the bed, splayed out and used, and with all of the conversations and interactions taking place inside her own mind, she pushes her character through a gauntlet of physical and psychological horrors, helping give us one of the most disturbing King adaptations in years. It also features a shocking moment that rivals the infamous hobbling scene from Misery and will rattle the most unyielding of horror nuts.
As Gerald, Jessie’s frustrated and sex-deprived husband, Greenwood is excellent. The actor embraces the character – who teeters between nice guy and villain, never quite choosing which of the two to be – with a devilish glint in his eye. It is an unexpected performance, and the uncertainty of his character’s true nature perfectly counteracts Gugino’s fractured-mentality.
The third, and most terrifying, performance comes from Henry Thomas. His story takes place in flashbacks, as Jessie’s mind continues to fracture. And as further horrors are revealed, so to are potential keys to Jessie’s escape. It is a clever plot device that follows King’s original story almost verbatim. Thomas (who also appeared in Flanagan’s Ouija prequel) gives his best performance since – dare I say it – ET, and provides the film with some of its most unsettling moments.
If you have read previous reviews of mine, you will know that I avoid book-to-film comparisons whenever possible, but when films work so well by adhering to the source material I feel that they deserve recognition. King’s book was written alongside Dolores Claiborne and was published in the same year, and the two were originally intended to be released as one. Both stories include flashbacks to the same lunar eclipse, and feature young women suffering unimaginable horrors at the hands of a parent. They were two incredibly potent and compelling books, and now with Gerald’s Game finally having the adaptation it deserves, both films (Taylor Hackford directed the Kathy Bates and Jennifer Jason Leigh-starring ‘95 adaptation of Dolores Claiborne) represent two of the best Stephen King adaptations in the long catalogue of titles.
Gerald’s Game is a win for both Netflix and audiences. It is the best Stephen King film of the year, and should scare the shit out of anyone who sees it.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★ ★ ★★★