Review: Gerald's Game
In a year of truly great (IT, 1922) and not-so-great (The Dark Tower) Stephen King adaptations, you’d think any other King adaptation would be wholly unnecessary at this point. Well, you’d be wrong. So very wrong. Director Mike Flanagan’s (Hush, Oculus) adaptation of Gerald’s Game is not only one of the best films based on King’s work, it’s one of the best movies of the year full-stop.
Based on the 1992 novel, the story is initially shocking and seemingly unadaptable, on paper; a couple looking to re-ignite their relationship go out to their secluded lakeside cabin and the wife ends up chained up to their bed after her husband dies.
The story is contained, at first, with Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood playing the in-a-rut couple, Jessie and Gerald. We’re with these two for most of the runtime—plus a stray dog who craves fresh meat. After Gerald pushes things too far, he suffers a heart attack and dies next to a chained-up Jessie; he comes back as a vision of Jessie’s own creation who, along with a vision of herself, reassures her and casts doubt she’ll make it out alive.
Similar to Buried and Locke, Gerald’s Game ticking time clock, enclosed drama works incredibly well. Along with that, the film takes a step back and becomes an effective portrait of a woman fighting against the repressive powers in her life. Gerald’s domination rape kink causes the fight that leads to his heart attack; the trauma of the event causes Jessie to confront a moment in her life when she was sexually assaulted. In an especially King-ian adaption like this, co-writer Jeff Howard and co-writer/director Mike Flanagan do not take serious elements lightly, jumping back and forth from the bedroom to flashbacks to Jessie’s past, all anchored by Carla Gugino’s spectacular performance.
‘Jessie Prime’ or ‘Jessie A’ is an emotional wreck, struggling to stay hydrated while keeping the stray dog, who she feed raw meat to earlier, away from eating away from her dead, rotting husband. ‘Jessie B’, her own vision, has a cooler demeaner—this Jessie is her consciousness telling her to confront the situation at hand and the moment in her past that as haunted her for so long. Gugino plays each shade of Jessie with the proper compassion, attitude, and conviction—her performance as Jessie is quite possibly her career-best.
The flashbacks occur under the red glow of a solar eclipse, heightening the most horrifying moments—the sexual assault Jessie experiences as a child. Along with that, Flanagan and cinematographer Michael Fimognari use the dark to reach into Jessie’s psyche, creating imagery that’s pretty damn frightening. Carel Struycken (The Fireman in Twin Peaks) plays a haunting figure that’s sure to stand tall among King’s other monsters-come-to-life on screen.
Amongst the horror—and yes, the film does run the gamut of horror, including one of the most gnarly body horror effects ever filmed—the film has a lot to say about the domination victims face against powerful assaulters. Staying silent is easy and even necessary when dealing with the consequences, but it takes absolute courage to stand up and break free from those oppressive chains. Gerald’s Game features an all-timer performance from Gugino, while also being a love letter to powerful women; especially in our current climate, it’s required viewing.