Having written around 54 novels and nearly 200 short stories it is no wonder that there have been 39 theatrically released movies of Stephen Kings eclectic and astonishing works with 5 more coming this year and next. One of them is Gerald’s Game and with the King of Horror himself describing the adaptation as “hypnotic, horrifying and terrific” you know this is a movie you don’t want to miss.
The set-up is astounding simple as married couple Jessie and Gerald Burlingame (Watchman’s Carla Gugino and Star Trek’s Bruce Greenwood) head off to their secluded and remote cabin for a weekend away in an attempt to regain the lost spark from their relationship.
In the middle of nowhere with no signs of life except a stray dog that Jessie takes pity on and feeds a Kobe steak to, much to Gerald’s annoyance, the pair quickly head to the bedroom. While Jessie is hoping for a romantic reconnection Gerald has something kinkier in mind whipping out a pair of real handcuffs which he chains his unsure wife to the bed with.
Reluctant at first Jessie tries to enter into the spirt of her husband’s sex games however when he gets more violent things take a much darker turn and she fights him off an act that only makes him more aggressive and insistent on getting what he came for. As things get heated the couple fight and suddenly Gerald keels over and drops to the floor.
Unsure if her husband has had a heart attack or if it’s just another part of Gerald’s game Jessie is left scared and panic ridden handcuffed to the bed alone and with no one for miles around. Driven to breaking point and haunted by memories of the past and present as the situation worsens Jessie realises she must fight for survival. However as night draws in something comes out of the darkness to visit her, something terrible, something that she can’t explain.
A huge Stephen King fan especially obsessed with Gerald’s Game director and co-writer Mike Flanagan (known for making Oculus, Hush and Ouija: Origin of Evil) had been planning this cinematic adaptation for around 19 years and thankfully it was well worth the wait as his visual flair and inspired ideas make the film a captivating and claustrophobic thriller that blends reality and fantasy to brilliant affect.
Primarily taking place in the bedroom where Jessie is trapped we see her unravel as manifestations of her desperate mind appear in the shape of Gerald and herself the former undermining her every thought and plan, the latter pushing her to fight on even though her fate seems sealed. It is here that both actors really come into their own pulling out great performances showing different sides of their characters and keeping the audience thoroughly engaged considering the stark setting and scenario.
Much more than a simple tale of survival these twin personifications of her psyche not only guide her through the terrible situation but force her to confront the truth about her marriage and her dark and disturbing childhood including horrifying events during a solar eclipse that shaped her into the damaged victim she became in her adult life.
Keeping the audience on edge Gerald’s Game also takes a slide into the sick and the supernatural with the mysterious arrival of the Moonlight Man (Twin Peaks Carel Struycken) and the wild dog who returns for more food only to find some fresh meat in the form of Jessie chained to the bed and fading fast.
Added to Flanagan’s deft direction and clear passion for the project the most important elements are the leads both of which are amazing. Bruce Greenwood keeps Gerald’s true intentions and nature ambiguous allowing us to make our own minds up about what sort of a man he really was.
Taking us through what must have been a hugely demanding role both physically and psychologically Carla Gugino makes us feel Jessie’s pain in all its forms never allowing her to fall into the stereotypical screaming female figure. Her journey through the torturous time is transformative in positive and negative ways and Gugino plays it all out perfectly during the epic struggle.
Building brilliantly and packed with gripping tension Gerald’s Game is an excellent story full of depth superbly brought to life on the cinema screen by Mike Flanagan and his cast proving once again why people keep going back to Stephen King for inspiration when it comes to scaring audiences.
Gerald’s Game launches on Netflix 29th September