Running Time: 103 Minutes
Director: Mike Flanagan
Cast: Carla Gugino,Bruce Greenwood and Henry Thomas
While trying to spice up their marriage in their remote lake house, Jessie must fight to survive when her husband dies unexpectedly, leaving her handcuffed to their bed frame.
From his very first novel, Carrie (released in 1974) the work of iconic novelist Stephen King has been known for it’s great storytelling and rich characters. With this in mind it is easy to see how over the years there has been close to fifty adaptations of his work adapted for film with a further thirty being adapted for television. However there has been varying degrees with success with these adaptations. For every Stand By Me there has been a Dreamcatcher with very little middle ground.
2017 has seen a resurgence of King’s work with six adaptations of his novels and a further one yet to be released later this year (1922). However as with before it has been somewhat a mixed bag. As great as IT was, The Dark Tower has been a monumental failure and as riveting as Mr. Mercedes is, The Mist has been a terrible mess.
Now in conjunction with Netflix, director Mike Flanagan gives his take on King’s 1992 novel, Gerald’s Game.
In an attempt to reinvigorate their flagging marriage a middle aged couple plan a getaway in their remote, idyllic lake house. Whilst there they try to spice things up in the bedroom with husband (Gerald) handcuffing his wife (Jessie) to the bed. However their role play fantasy takes a turn for the worst when Gerald suffers a heart attack and dies. Alone and trapped, Jessie must find a way out to survive as well as confront some dark secrets about her own past.
Despite being one of King’s more popular pieces, Gerald’s Game has always been described as being a novel that is unfilmable given how the majority of it is just a stream of consciousness from the main character Jessie in one location. With this great task ahead of him, director Mike Flanagan does a solid job at attempting to adapt the difficult novel onto film.
No stranger to the horror genre having already directed the likes of Oculus and the underrated Hush, Flanagan does a great job at adding tension to what would be incidental moments outside of this kind of situation with the flair of Hitchcock. One moment in particular that stands out is when Jessie is desperately trying to reach for a glass of water above her head without dropping it.
Scenes such as these are underpinned by some genuinely unnerving moments of psychological horror, particularly with the use of the “Moonlight Man” , a character whose unsettling presence stands out and lingers long in the memory. As unsettling as this character is, Jessie’s memories of her abusive father are as equally disturbing.
Flanagan tries his best to make use of the one location setting but it only serves to point out the limitations of adapting such a difficult novel to film. The way in which he uses the voices in Jessie’s head as actual physical projections of her subconscious works really well within the confines of the singular location but overall the pace of the film is quite uneven and drags at times.
Flashback scenes, although good at establishing the background of the main character Jessie cut the tension established in the room. Perhaps a tighter script from Flanagan with his co-writer Jeff Howard would have made for a better film. It can even be argued that Gerald’s Game would have made for a better short film rather than a full blown feature.
In the lead role of Jessie, Carla Gugino does a terrific job at conveying a woman trapped in a helpless situation that has to rise to the occasion for the sake of her own survival. For a very psychically limited role, Gugino throws herself into it with real enthusiasm. Not only is it a case of her struggling on a bed for ninety minutes, but she does a tremendous job at conveying her character’s abusive past at her lowest moments showcasing her talents that has been underused in other films.
Playing off of her for most of the film is Bruce Greenwood in the role of Gerald. Although only a mental projection for most of the film, Greenwood really relishes the malevolent side of his character, constantly putting down Jessie in her struggle for survival. His presence comes as a constant reminder of how hopeless Jessie’s situation isand how hopeless their relationship has been.
In the pantheon of Stephen King adaptations, Gerald’s Game sits somewhere in the middle in terms of quality. Whilst establishing a great deal of tension with elements of psychological horror alongside some great performances, the film ultimately fails to overcome the limited nature of the source material. It is an admirable effort from Flanagan but ultimately it is an unspectacular adaptation of a difficult piece of work that is ideal for home viewing.