Gerald’s Game is a psychological horror film released on September 29th 2017. It was directed by Mike Flanagan and written by Jeff Howard and Flanagan. Gerald’s Game was released via Netflix and stars Carla Gugino (Watchmen, Wayward Pines) and Bruce Greenwood (Mad Men, Star Trek).
Gerald’s Game is a film adapted from a Stephen King novel. That can be a cause for alarm. Even the most die hard Stephen King fan (and that includes me) has to admit that there are just as many very poor adaptations of his work as there are good one.
That isn’t a slight on his books. Quite the opposite actually. King has an amazing gift for creating vivid imagery in your mind with his words. Directors then struggle to recreate that same visual accuracy because we all imagine locations, characters and the like differently. Add to that the length of some of his stories and what we often end up with are massively cut or changed 90 minute movies with casting that doesn’t match our imagined characters. Diluted versions of detailed books that have no time for one of King’s most important skills – character development.
The bigger the book, the worse the film (in most cases). In fact, take a Stephen King short story and convert that to a film and there is a higher success rate. Less words to adapt, you see. Films like The Shawshank Redemption, Room 1408, Thinner, Creepshow, Children of the Corn and The Mist all came from novella’s or short stories.
Gerald’s Game, the book, isn’t a short story so that may not bode well. One thing it does have on it’s side though is that the director, Mike Flanagan, is a King fan. He is making this film out of love for the story so hopefully he can do it justice.
Gerald’s Game centres on Jessie Burlingame (Carla Gugino) and her husband, Gerald. Gerald and Jessie have gone away for the weekend to a very expensive looking lake house. We learn that they are trying to rekindle their marriage and their sex life. They are hoping this time away, with just the two of them, can reinvigorate them. On there way they nearly run into a stray dog and, upon arriving, Jessie leaves some (very expensive) steak out for the dog to eat before heading inside and leaving the door open.
Gerald has decided to inject a bit of spice in the bedroom department so, while Jessie changes into some silky lingerie, Gerald pops a Viagra and unpacks a pair of handcuffs. Jessie seems a little reluctant, though we hear that she was keen before they arrived, but still finds herself handcuffed to a very strong bed with very strong handcuffs. As Gerald climbs on top of her, she starts resisting resulting in a brief argument where she kicks him off of her. The argument is brief purely because Gerald appears to suffer from a heart attack and collapses on top of Jessie. Jessie panics and, as she tries to manoeuvre Gerald off of her, knocks him off of the bed where he bangs his head and we see a pool of blood form. Gerald is dead.
I do think he was actually dead from the heart attack here, not necessarily from the bang on the head though I could be wrong. Either way, Gerald is no longer of any use. Jessie is handcuffed to a massive, heavy bed at a lake house where nobody else is around, or expected to be around for at least the next few days. Realising her predicament, she screams for help but no one can hear her. As fear and panic set deeper in her, she hears movement in the house. She is tired, and in pain, and so relieved as she calls out to them for help but it is just the stray dog that has come in through the open door.
For the viewer, this raises concerns. We all know who Cujo is right? In fact, earlier in the film Gerald jokingly refers to the dog as Cujo. Worst fears are realised as the dog, fresh from his nice steak, comes towards the meaty and tender looking bleeding body of Gerald on the floor. Jessie tries to scare the dog away by kicking out her legs and yelling but she can barely move and it has no impact. Well, other than to wear her out a little more. The dog drinks from the pool of blood around Gerald and then rips a sinuous chunk out of his arm.
Jessie is breaking under the despair of watching her recently alive husband’s corpse be ripped apart in front of her. Understandable really. This is made worse when the dog settles down int he doorway to eat his newly found meat. He is directly in her line of sight and she has no way to avert her eyes. As Jessie lies handcuffed to the bed, weak, thirsty and in pain with the body of her husband at the foot of the bed being eaten by a stray dog in front of her eyes, her mind snaps.
Our first realisation of her new mental state comes when Gerald stands up.He comically states that his arm hurts (where their is a chunk of flesh missing). It is nice that Jessie also realises that she has lost the plot quickly too, rather than thinking it was all real. Gerald taunts Jessie about her life and her predicament and shortly afterwards, Jessie’s mind brings another person into the room. She now has a hallucinated version of Gerald and herself. The imaginary Jessie tries to be helpful and is a very gentle, clean cut housewife type. She manages to help Jessie in getting a drink of water using some of the things around her.
Jessie is in a bad way. Her circulation is becoming an issue now too. The sight of the hungry dog eating her husband while other versions of her husband and herself taunt and argue is destroying her. Its important to realise how bad Jessie’s state is and also how well Carla Gugino portrays it. She is very believable and really gives her all.
Jessie’s predicament becomes more complex for us viewers when she wakes up in the night and notices a dark, deformed figure in her room. The figure approaches showing off a box of body parts and trinkets. Jessie closes her eyes and refuses to believe he is real and, when she opens them again, he is gone. Gerald tells her the figure is death and that he is coming for her and in the same breath calls her “mouse”.
While the name may seem insignificant at first, it plays a huge part in this story. See Gerald never called her that. Her father did. The name triggers a collection of flashbacks. These show that she was the victim of sexual abuse as a child, at the hands of her father. These flashbacks are also key as it is within these that she has a memory of badly cutting her hand and how slippery her hand became. With this in her mind, she has an idea for how she can get out of the cuffs.
As the film progresses from here, we see Jessie as she injures herself badly attempting to escape. The dog is now eyeing her up as fresh meat. Her imaginary guests are still there and she isn’t sure if the deformed man is real or not. As a viewer, you find yourself questioning quite a lot of what you are seeing. Is she dead already? Is the man real? Hell, is the dog even real? With so many hallucinations around her, is she hallucinating her own escape attempt? This leads to an exciting finish. There are plenty more twists and turns on the way too. It all culminates in the reading of a heartfelt letter written to her younger self and, finally, some answers as to what was or wasn’t real.
Gerald’s Game is a film that deserves to be watched. It satisfyingly twists and turns all over the place. Viewers will have many theories while watching but the uncertainty of what is real or not is the real magic in the film. Gerald’s Game is such an interesting watch. It is also occasionally a very uncomfortable watch. The horror is mostly psychological though the cutting scenes are incredibly graphic and incredibly gross. I really feel like the direction and production in this film is close to perfect. I adore how they have handled some very scary and sensitive subjects with real care and compassion.
As far as an adaptation from a story, it is different but understandably so. In the book, all the hallucinations happen within Jessie and only in her mind. Gerald isn’t even in the book from around page 10 or 11. The decision to keep him involved to give that extra dimension to the hallucinations was genius. Aside from that and some minor touches, the source material is used well and respected.
The acting is phenomenal and summed up by the absolutely award worthy performances from both Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood. They are brilliant and put on some of the best acting performances I have seen in recent times. I am also really impressed by the music from The Newton Brothers which subtly adds so much to each dramatic scene. With great acting, a great story, a well structured and perfectly timed plot, Gerald’s Game is a really exciting film with a ton of psychological terror and suspense.
So, get a good story, treat it with respect and hire some good actors. That seems to be the key to a successful adaptation. Who knew?
Horror Movie Review - Gerald's Game (2017)
The Final Score - 9/10