The novel Gerald’s Game was published in 1992. Somehow, I’ve never read it. I’ve never really wanted to because of the lukewarm stuff I’ve read about it. It sounded like a fine King novel, but no Misery or The Shining. So when I saw the film adaptation on Netflix, I passed it up several times. But damn, I’m really glad I finally watched it.
Directed by Mike Flanagan (who also directed the fantastic Hush), Gerald’s Game focuses on married couple Jessie and Gerald (played by Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood), who go away for the weekend in attempt to bring some spice back to their sex life. Jessie has agreed to some handcuffing and role-playing, but she quickly gets uncomfortable and asks Gerald to stop. When he refuses, things get heated, and Gerald has a heart attack, collapsing on top of still-handcuffed Jessie. With Gerald dead, Jessie quickly realizes she has little chance of being found by anyone in their isolated location and that she is in real danger of dying if she stays handcuffed to the bed for the next few days. The rest of the film is a fight for survival as Jessie tries to stay coherent and not lose herself to the voices she’s hearing as her mind unravels.
Jessie has a lot to contend with in the following hours, including a starving dog, her own extreme hunger and thirst, the vision of a man standing in the room who she thinks is Death, and visions of Gerald and herself who talk to her. Her current dilemma is supplemented by memories of childhood trauma woven into the present. But even with these flashbacks, we barely leave the room at hand. We barely even leave the bed.
This is where the tension ramps up. Everything feels so real, from the desperation in Jessie’s eyes to her dehydrated, chapped lips to the slowly decaying body on the floor next to the bed. And this is where Gugino shines. She makes this movie work. (Don’t get me wrong – Greenwood is great, too. But Carla. Is. Getting it.) For most of the film, Gugino is acting while handcuffed to a bed in a nightie, and she’s acting up a damn storm.
As might be expected in a situation as dire as Jessie’s, there’s some gross stuff. The flashes of gore in this movie are so well done and so realistic that they became my favorite moments. The first instance of body horror – which I won’t spoil – comes pretty early on, and as soon as I saw it, I thought, “This is Stephen King.” The gore has that ultra-realistic and totally unapologetic quality that King brings to gore in his novels. And it’s not overdone. It’s just right.
There’s also a delightfully feminist quality to the film, where we watch a woman on the brink of death fight like hell against not only her environment, but also the male oppressors in her life (Gerald and her father) to try to survive and stand on her own. All while battling immediate and past trauma. Jessie is a badass.
My one complaint about the film is the last ten minutes or so. In an effort to tie the story together, it gets rushed and awkward at the end in a way that feels like the material got away from the director in a film where everything else was so well controlled and paced. Apparently, though, this is how the book ends as well. And it’s clunky in the book, too, according to the Internet. Still, I can’t help but wish that Flanagan had ditched King’s ending for one that felt like it fit with the rest of this really formidable film.
Even with the ending as it stands, I still really enjoyed this King adaptation. Flanagan does again what he did so well in Hush: creates an environment full of suspense and lights it with a slow-burning match. Watch the trailer below for a taste of Gerald’s Game.
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The authors of this blog are four women with opinions about pop culture. That's all you really need to know.