Gerald's Game Review
Don’t let “The Dark Tower” from August fool you. The year 2017 is going to be remembered as the year that Hollywood finally figured out how to properly adapt a Stephen King horror novel. Too many times in the past, Stephen King’s adaptations from book to any type of screen range from mediocre to bad. In most cases, at least. The best Stephen King adaptations have been his work that doesn’t fall into horror and when his horror stuff has worked in the past, it’s been made by veteran filmmakers who specialize in the strange and the difficult.
It seems that day may be coming to an end though. It seems that people who grew up as Stephen King fans, soaking up every little page written by the author, are growing up dreaming of bringing his work to life. At the beginning of the month of September, we got a damn good adaptation of “IT.” That’s a pretty difficult book to adapt just by itself, which I feel is why the original mini-series never quite held up over the years. Is the 2017 “IT” the most perfect adaptation ever? Of course not. I stand by original review, and I still plan to explain my feelings more in my future Further Inspection piece I am going to write up. But it got darn close, and that was music to my ears. Now, at the end of September, Netflix has released another close-to-perfect Stephen King adaptation. Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood star in “Gerald’s Game.”
What is “Gerald’s Game?” It’s not the typical Stephen King tale. King usually goes crazy with the weird in his books. He’s dabbled in all sorts of facets of horror. But he does not have too many horror novels that fall into psychological horror. “Gerald’s Game” is one of King’s rare excursions into psychological horror. Jessie and Gerald are a couple whose marriage is starting to fall apart, and to reinvigorate their relationship, they start to do things differently in every aspect of their relationship, including their sex life. Gerald likes to play a game where he role plays with handcuffs. During a visit at a remote cabin, Gerald handcuffs Jessie to the bed. Suddenly, Gerald is killed by a heart attack, leaving Jessie handcuffed to the bed, with no easy way to get out of the handcuffs. Much like Stephen King could write a hefty book about a dog with rabies in “Cujo,” he was able to write a hefty book of a woman handcuffed to a bed with her dead husband laying on the ground. She begins to hallucinate, and tries to get herself out of her predicament, while we learn more about her dark past.
The film version of “Gerald’s Game” really doesn’t stray too far from the book. I even think it might be more of a faithful adaptation than the recent “IT” movie was. Carla Gugino plays Jessie and Bruce Greenwood plays Gerald, and they are both superb. And no, just because Bruce Greenwood is Gerald doesn’t mean he dies early then is done. Sure, Gerald does die early, but thanks to Jessie’s hallucinations, we get lots of Greenwood’s Gerald and he is gleefully creepy as Jessie’s hallucination. Heck, Jessie talks to a version of herself in this movie, and even that exchange with herself turns on the big creep factor. There is a way director Mike Flanagan uses camera angles in a very Stanley Kubrick way. The way the camera focuses on a character’s full face while they say a bit of dialogue, then immediately cuts to the other character and their dialogue. It sounds so simple, but Flanagan found a way to make it come off odd and offbeat.
Henry Thomas, who you may remember as the little kid from “E.T.” or maybe even Leonardo DiCaprio’s friend in “Gangs of New York” makes an appearance here. He plays Jessie’s father in some of her flashbacks she has as her adrenaline starts to wane while trying to stay alive. When you see Henry Thomas in movies, he usually plays the boy-next-door type character. No matter the type of character and no matter the genre, he plays an innocent type of character. Not here though. In fact, I was so taken aback by Thomas’ character and his work in this film that I almost didn’t believe it was him. Henry Thomas turns on his full sleaze-bag effect and its quite striking. I don’t know want to get into any details here, but his work here is woefully powerful.
It’s amazing that so little happens in the movie, and despite the epilogue of the movie, as well as a few flashbacks, the movie takes place in one setting. But the film does possess the power to creep you out, to build some genuine scares. This might be one of Carla Gugino’s finest performances yet. The entire success or failure of the movie rests on her shoulders. It’s one of those movies that focuses mainly on one character, so that character has to be magnificent before the camera. Trust me, Carla is magnificent here. Yes, she’s an actress that I have liked many times before, but some kind of floodgate has opened deep inside her for this one, and the result is one of the best moments in her entire career.
If you’re a Stephen King in general, there are some links to King’s other works that I bet will have you giddy. There is a moment in the movie where Gerald calls a stray dog Cujo, even though the stray dog in the book was called Prince and the dog’s name was also Prince on the credits. There are some links to “Dolores Claiborne” and Gerald also talks about something about a beam, you know what that means! I think these might have been to wink and nod at the audience. I am not sure there is going to be some kind of crossover event with all these recent Stephen King adaptation, even though I would watch that unfold in a heartbeat.
We might be entering a brand new stage as Stephen King fans. Much like the superhero resurgence at the beginning of the decade, it feels like people are being hired to adapt Stephen King work who actually like his work. This might be a time when we look back and say, “man, that was a good time to be a Stephen King fan.” I hope we can ride this wave for the next quarter century or more. We shall see, but for right now, Mike Flanagan, job well done.
FINAL GRADE: A-