Gerald’s Game is yet another addition to this year’s bonanza of Stephen King adaptations. It was long thought unfilmable due to its content and the how much of it is spent with just one character. With Netflix producing and Mike Flanagan of Hush fame directing, hopes were high for a good film that would tap into the intricate story of abuse and desperation that riveted readers in the early 90’s.
Gerald’s Game is about Jessie Burlingame (Carla Gugino), a woman who is trying to survive a nightmarish scenario. She and her husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) have taken a secret getaway to their remote lake house for some kinky sex, but after the handcuffs are on and attached to the bedposts, Jessie realizes that the spice has gone out of this little game for her. She demands Gerald release her, but he ignores her request, and just as the ensuing fight reaches fever pitch, Gerald keels over of a heart attack. Trapped and alone in the deep woods, with only a dead body and a hungry stray dog that has gotten into the house, Jessie must find a way to free herself. As night falls, Jessie begins to grow desperate and her mind brings up old memories that she will have to confront if she wants to make it out of the handcuffs.
Nothing about Gerald’s Game would have worked if they hadn’t gotten the right actress, and Carla Gugino is spot on. She is giving it everything she has in this role, displaying so much pain, anxiety, and desperation it’s exhausting just to watch. Her physical acting, especially during the more gruesome parts, is remarkable. There aren’t many of scenes of blood and gore, but the ones they have are well done with practical effects real enough to make you cringe. Most of the film takes place in one room and the camerawork uses this to its advantage by creating a claustrophobic feel with camera positioning, lighting, and a color palette that changes with the mood.
There are so many great things about Mike Flanagan’s Gerald’s Game, but at times it doesn’t seem sure of what it wants to be. It only hints around the darker parts of the story regarding abuse, but doesn’t shy away from the physical violence Jessie puts herself through to escape. There are bold changes from the original book, but it also rushes through plot points to include an epilogue that feels misplaced for the story it’s telling. These choices lessen the impact of Jessie’s predicament at the end of the film, so while Mike Flanagan’s version gets most of the basics on screen, it leaves the soul of King’s story, and a more complex discussion of male abuse, on the cutting room floor.