Directed by Mike Flanagan
Based on the novel written by Stephen King
UK Release Date: 29th September 2017
Feature Running Time: 103 minutes
‘While trying to spice up their marriage in their remote lake house, Jessie must fight to survive when her husband dies unexpectedly, leaving her handcuffed to their bedframe’. (Source: IMDB)
With Stephen King having such a massive renaissance with his body of written work right now, owing big thanks to Andy Muschietti’s interpretation of IT breaking all the box office records earlier this month (I won’t dare talk about The Dark Tower that got released three weeks prior), it’s inevitable that another one of King’s bestselling novels gets the screen adaptation so soon. This time it’s Gerald’s Game, courtesy of Netflix. This was a book I’ve known for a long time and was somewhat familiar of its source material but just never had the chance to get around to reading. I found the premise particularly intriguing though, as it differs from most of the stuff that King has already written regarding full-on frightening horror and coming of age drama.
When I say I was somewhat familiar with the original source material, I think something somewhere may have got lost in translation when I curiously looked up its main synopsis years ago. I actually thought that Jess (Carla Gugino) was a victim of both domestic and sexual abuse and finds herself forced to be on the submissive end to the kinky sexual bedroom games devised by her sick and twisted husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood). But after watching the film, I discovered that wasn’t the case at all. The film focuses on Gerald taking his wife on a trip to a remote cabin in the middle of nowhere, miles from anyone else, to try and give their love life the spark it needs by injecting some much needed excitement in the bedroom. With their marriage being on the rocks for months, Jess doesn’t believe this will work or solve anything in terms of making them both happy with each other again. But regardless, she decides to reluctantly play along and allow herself to get handcuffed to the bedposts, despite how uneasy and uncomfortable it makes her feel. I think with the story being played from this particular angle helps ground it in enough realism for us to identify with and relate to both of the central characters with the personal relationship struggles that they’ve had to endure.
What I wanted to take away most from watching this was just how a story like this was able to get translated well enough to the screen where it didn’t seem at all ridiculous, boring or far-fetched. Its definitely a challenge for a director to adapt a story where so much of it is spent on one female character restricted and confined to a bed in a single location after her husband unexpectedly dies from a sudden heart attack so early on. It’s more effective when reading from a book everything that goes on in her head but on film, it’s a much more difficult task to recapture and to still retain that same disturbing effect on viewers. A sigh of relief then that director Mike Flanagan is able to surpass that challenge with flying colours by using different camera tricks and techniques as a way of breaking down Jess’ mental psyche when experiencing hallucinations, visions and hearing crazy voices in her head that are all main causes for her to start losing grip on her own sanity and mentality. One of these ‘hallucinations’ being Gerald communicating with her beyond the dead and the reason why I mention this is because the film cleverly plays around with the notion of whether or not the spirit of her late dead husband has come back to haunt her or if it really is just all in her head. As the hallucinations become much more overwhelming for Jess, personal memories and deep secrets get unlocked in her subconscious, bringing to the surface repressed memories of her childhood when she was subjected to sexual child abuse from her father and to see this past event unfold and unravel was really quite chilling and unnerving to watch.
Both Gugino and Greenwood give equally excellent performances as the struggling married couple where they share some great chemistry and with Greenwood as Gerald in particular, I sometimes didn’t know when he was being sinister and when he wasn’t. You could definitely feel Jess’s pain and suffering throughout though as she wracks her brains figuring out how to escape a seemingly impossible and frightening situation. Also, as a side note, it’s common knowledge for every King fan out there to know that the grand storyteller loves to share universes within several of his novels and in this film, we get given some nice little nods to both Cujo and Bag of Bones, which is always fun.
As a final word of warning, I feel that I need to advise other viewers to brace themselves come the ending of how this story all comes to a close and finding out if she ever escapes from this alive at all. I just never expected the final third act to take such a gruesome and gory turn. I winced, tightly shut my eyes and must have shouted out such profanities like ‘fuuuuuuck!’, ‘shitting hell’ and ‘Jesus fucking Christ’ at least a good four or five times. I was definitely not ready. Brace yourself guys, brace yourselves….