2017 marks a big year for Stephen King adaptations. “Gerald’s Game” is now the fifth work adapted to the small and big screen combined — others included “The Dark Tower,” “IT,” “Children of the Corn” and “1922.” Outside of just this year, some adaptations have failed, while others, like “Misery,” “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile” have done King’s works justice. As a King fan who’s been reading his work since middle school, I think this film version sizzles and delivers.
Jessie (Carla Gugino), a young housewife, is married to Gerald (Bruce Greenwood), who is old enough to be her father. The couple wants to work on their marriage and sex life by planning a secluded weekend getaway to a lake house. Gerald brings out the handcuffs and attaches Jessie to the bed posts on each end, like Fay Wray in “King Kong.” We learn that they hadn’t had sex in months and this rape fantasy excites Gerald in ways Jessie didn’t know he was capable of.
When he gets too rough with her, she refuses him. Gerald then has a heart attack, falls on the floor and lays dead at the foot of her bed for the rest of the film. This isn’t like “Saw” where there’s a clever way to bring him back to life. Gerald is dead and this isn’t a spoiler alert. What ensues is a journey into Jessie’s memories about the disturbing relationship with her father, battling voices in her head and trying to figure out if the figure in the corner — who she names The Moonlight Man — is real.
A common theme in Stephen King works is survival. He places his characters in uncompromising positions and then we’re along for the ride. For readers of his work, “Gerald’s Game” is no different. The director, Mike Flanagan, does an excellent job at executing the voices in Jessie’s head. They’re manifested as the good cop version of herself and the bad cop is her husband. This contrasts to the novel, where Jessie’s friends’ voices represent versions of herself and talk to her. At a scant 103 minutes, the film’s pacing never wavers and keeps you on the edge of your seat. We see Jessie’s trajectory, facing her demons by reliving her painful memories and keep wondering, “How is she going to get out of those handcuffs?”
Gugino’s performance is masterful in playing the double role of Jessie tied up and the Jessie in her head. Her facial gestures and delivery elevates this role that creates an unforgettable performance of a woman’s transformation from a terrified state and sees her get to the other side. Greenwood, the actor who plays Gerald, is in great shape in his sixties that he manages to be seamlessly sexy and sinister at the same time. Greenwood has a diverse portfolio, playing the duplicitous husband in “Double Jeopardy” and JFK in “Thirteen Days,” in which he was outstanding. In “Gerald’s Game” he had a solid performance.
While the film was engrossing, the conclusion becomes muddled, executed like an epilogue, similarly to the way King wrote the ending in the novel. In the film, a flashback that introduces us to Jessie’s father includes the day they witnessed the solar eclipse, which is echoed in the last shot of the film which felt too contrived. While one can understand why it ended that way, there was still something that felt a little too saccharine for this King fan. There are also some references to his novels that made me squeal, which is always a nice touch for a longtime fan. This was an enjoyable psychological and suspenseful picture that didn’t have any supernatural or horror elements. Simply the evil that can exist in human behavior was enough to unsettle viewers to their core.
Featured Photo: Carla Gugino gives a masterful performance as a trapped woman in “Gerald’s Room.” NETFLIX.