“All things serve The Beam.”
What a year for Stephen King adaptations, eh? There’s been more up and downs this year than the Overlook Hotel’s blood filled elevator. The Dark Tower started the year off on a depressingly low note and that looked like it was going to be the the tone for the whole year. The Mist TV show launched with a resounded ‘meh’ and Mr Mercedes was apparently pretty good but you’ll be looking far and wide for anyone who’s actually watched it. But then the long awaited It dropped, and to my surprise it was fantastic (I gave it a glowing review on this blog a few weeks ago). Stephen King adaptations were suddenly back in fashion, with multiple being instantly greenlit in It’s wake (take a look at King’s IMDB page to see the amount of adaptations coming our way in the next few years). But while It was receiving near universal acclaim, and rightly so, a smaller, more personal King story was sneaking it way out to audiences through Netflix.
Gerald’s Game is directed by up-and-coming horror director Mike Flanagan (Ouija: Origin of Evil, Oculus). Although with the arrival of the fantastic Gerald’s Game I think we can say he’s made it. The films sees Carla Gugino’s Jessie travelling with her husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) to their secluded holiday home to try and inject some passion back into their marriage. Jessie is meek and under the thumb of her husband, so when the increasingly skeevy Gerald divulges that the only way he’s going to be able to get it up is with a rape-y role play, she reluctantly goes along. She lets Gerald hand cuff both her arms and put the key out of her reach but quickly his gross violent fantasy becomes too much. Their argument reaches fever pitch when worse however when, in his anger and viagra filled fervor, Gerald suddenly dies of a heart attack. Jessie is tied to the bed frame, the sun is setting, and her only companion is a hungry stray dog which has wandered in and the corpse of her recently deceased sleaze-ball husband. Soon she’s imagining ghosts of her husband, father, and even herself. Things peaks when she sees an apparition of what she convinces herself is death. But unlike her recently deceased husband, this one seems all too real…
Firstly, Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood are fantastic in the film – especially Gugino. She’s been brilliant in so many other films over the years (Spy Kids is a personal favourite) so it’s great to see her so successfully leading a film. For a good portion of the film it’s just her on screen too, so her performance is make or break for the film. Her change from meek, subdued housewife to bad-ass survivor is completely believable, awesome, and occasionally distressing (in the form of her creepy father, played by ET’s Henry Thomas). Greenwood is also great in the film and despite what you might think at first, is in it a lot more than his early death implies. Flanagan’s direction is frequently stunning and allows for enough scares that horror aficionados should be pleased. The decent running time allows the scares to be built up and Flanagan revels in not showing us things as much as showing them. A certain horrific third-act moment is possibly the film’s best moment though and Flanagan certainly shows us all of that. Remember that scene in Bone Tomahawk? Yeah, this is 2017’s version of that. In fact it somehow made me cringe even more. It’s fantastic.
The script by Jeff Howard and Flanagan is a highlight too and is full of Stephen King-y dialogue (but not too much though, this isn’t Dreamcatcher). We soon realise that Jessie escaping the cuffs is only the immediate obstacle she has to overcome, and there are plenty more that she’s buried deep inside that could be as life threatening. Flanagan’s script handles it all brilliantly and tactfully and even manages to successfully adapt King’s original and controversial ending. Some will say it’s extraneous but pay attention to what battle Jessie’s really facing and you’ll see why it’s essential. I don’t want to say too much more for risk of spoiling the films bigger moments but I will say this; Elliot from ET is one creepy dude.
The bottom line: Gerald’s Game is a fantastic story about overcoming obstacles both physically and mentally. In the foreground we have the best survival movie this side of 127 Hours and in the background we have a tragic tale about the horrors of childhood trauma. Mike Flanagan’s script and direction are both subtlety brilliant and the performances are the best of Gugino’s and Greenwood’s careers. Between this and It, 2017 has given us some of the very best King adaptations ever. Stayed tuned constant readers, I think it might only get better.
Reviewed by Tom