Gerald's Game Review
More on Netflix
Stephen King may not be a fan of every single film adaptation of his vast amount of novels (he even famously dislikes Stanley Kubrick's version of The Shining, which critics and audiences adore), but King himself has called Mike Flanagan's take on Gerald's Game "Hypnotic, horrifying and terrific" after watching a rough cut of it. But is it impressing critics and audiences as much as it is pleasing the creator of the story?
The film contains numerous elements that are common in King's stories, including an unsatisfied married couple. This couple consists of Gerry (Bruce Greenwood) and Jessie (Carla Gugino), who decide to spend some time at an isolated lake house. It does not take long for Gerry to handcuff his wife to the bed and, although Jessie initially goes along with what her husband wants, she soon becomes disgusted by his sexually inappropriate behaviour and tells him to stop.
Gerald is now annoyed, as the vacation was specifically designed for the two of them to make their married life together more enjoyable. Jessie demands to be uncuffed from the bed, but Gerald unexpectedly suffers a heart attack and dies in front of his wife. Horrified, Jessie spends most of the film trying to find a way to free herself from the bed before she dies of dehydration or starvation, or gets eaten by a stray dog that is already biting chunks out of her husband's corpse.
I am a Stephen King fan, but I had never heard of Gerald's Game until I came across this film adaptation. It is unsurprising that I have not heard of this one, however; most King fans agree that this is one of his lesser novels and that they find certain elements of the story ludicrous; some even consider the book unfilmable. While this newest Netflix film is not flawless and does not stand amongst some of the best Stephen King film adaptations - The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Stand by Me, to name a few - it is still a valiant effort from everyone involved.
Mike Flanagan does not hold back here, as he makes the film as grim, disturbing and creepy as it can possibly be. There is one scene towards the end that will make even die-hard gore lovers squirm; it is bloody, visceral and incredibly graphic, showcasing just how much pain Jessie is going through both physically and mentally. Carla Gugino provides her character with lots of likeability, as she manages to be vulnerable yet strong-willed and tough. If her acting was poor, the film would have crumbled immediately, as most of it rests entirely on her shoulders. Luckily, the casting directors made a perfect choice; Gugino is completely captivating and convincing throughout.
I was also glad that Bruce Greenwood did not go to waste here, even though his character dies at a very early stage of the film. Flanagan cleverly decided to use Gerry as part of Jessie's imagination, not only as a way to taunt her but also as a way to make her more determined to escape. This prevented the film from becoming stale and uninteresting, as the conversations that take place inside Jessie's head leave the audience with questions that get answered later in the film through a series of devastating flashbacks to her childhood.
Some complain that one of Stephen King's largest flaws as a writer is that he does not know how to end his stories, and even I have to agree that some of the endings to his novels can be ridiculous and rather disappointing. Unfortunately, Gerald's Game has one of the weaker King endings (unless Flanagan altered it for the film version). A deformed man carrying a box frequently visits Jessie at the lake house, with Gerald claiming that he is Death and has come to take her away. This character detracted from her heartbreaking story (especially towards the end) and came across as a gimmick rather than an integral part of the story. It was already made clear that Jessie wants to avoid death; having a physical manifestation of the concept made the film lose some of its subtlety.
That is not to say that Gerald's Game does not work as a whole. Far from it; it is a chilling experience that left me with a feeling of unease. If an adaptation of a horror novel managed to make me feel this way, it did its job.