Fantastic Fest Review: Superb Stephen King Adaptation 'Gerald's Game'
by Jeremy Kirk
September 25, 2017
Sometimes when transferring a novel to a film, the best way to go is a straight, no-frills adaptation. The author has said all that needs to be said on the subject, and the job the filmmaker undertakes is simply bringing that source material to life through visual representation. With so many adaptations of the works of Stephen King already made - and many more just on the horizon - it's refreshing to see a film based on his works sticking so closely to the book. Enter Gerald's Game, based on the 1992 novel, directed by Oculus and Hush director Mike Flanagan. A streamlined adaptation, the film hits with surprising intensity and delivers ample amounts of atmosphere and scares. It also boasts a career-best performance from Carla Gugino, who aids in raising Gerald's Game to the levels of some of the very best Stephen King adaptations.
Carla Gugino stars as Jessie Burlingame, a devoted wife to her lawyer husband, Gerald (played by Bruce Greenwood). Jessie and Gerald are in a seemingly happy marriage, the surface of it hiding the secret underneath that their sexual relationship has hit something of a lull. Jessie and Gerald travel to their secluded retreat in the woods, Gerald pops a little, blue pill, and out come the handcuffs. Gerald's idea of spicing things up with the cuffs makes Jessie uncomfortable at first, but she capitulates for the sake of romance. That discomfort in Jessie grows to the point where she dislikes her husband's game outright, forcing him to uncuff her. He reluctantly backs off, but a sudden heart attack leaves Gerald dead at the foot of their bed, Jessie still cuffed to the posts at the head.
So begins the woman's fight for survival as demons from her past and even Gerald's ghost begin popping up in the woman's mind. It doesn't help matters that a hungry, stray dog has entered the house and has begun to feed on the dead husband. Jessie soon finds herself fighting against forces within as well as without, and the traumas in her life give her moments to reflect, and the strength to break free once and for all.
Flanagan co-wrote the screenplay for the adaptation along with Jeff Howard, and their script takes little time in getting to the meat of the story at hand. The quickness of the film's pace adds to the intensity, and the single location aids in the directness of the threats growing around Jessie. That never keeps the film from delivering a powerful message about one's strength and how the traumas of one's youth can help overcome the dangers that come threatening later in life. King's novel had this, and Flanagan and Howard effortlessly incorporate the message into the foreboding threats lurking about Jessie's environment.
The director utilizes that environment – the room and the bed – to near-perfection, as well, ratcheting up the suspense with each, passing minute without the film suffering from being either frantic or drawn out. The pacing Flanagan incorporates in Gerald's Game is one of the film's many strengths, and the director never fails to build on the horrific atmosphere closing in around Jessie, either.
As Jessie, Gugino could not be more suitable for the role. While the story gives the character strength, the actress bringing that character to cinematic life delivers on that strength with a natural ability. Gugino has always been something of a quiet force in the film industry, each of her performances forcing the viewer to stand up and take notice. It is here in Gerald's Game, however, that she is fully allowed to shine, and she never even comes close to missing a beat. It is, without a doubt, her most accomplished performance so far.
Likewise, Gerald's Game marks a clear accomplishment for Flanagan, who has been delivering one solid work of horror after another. Here we also have the filmmaker's best work to date, a clear maturation when it comes to atmosphere, intensity, and tone. With the current slate of King adaptations in the works, it's satisfyingly appropriate when one sticks so close to the master of horror's original work so much. Gerald's Game is the best King adaptation to come along in quite some time, and it's an incredibly intense film that announces Flanagan's work as a director is only improving with each film.
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