Looking to spice up their marriage, distant duo Jessie and Gerald Burlingame take off for the weekend to an isolated lakehouse in the country. But while Jessie hopes to reconnect with her husband through good old fashioned sexual healing, kinky Gerald has something more adventurous in mind: two sets of industrial-strength steel handcuffs, one for each bedpost. When Gerald’s heart suddenly gives out before he can free the increasingly unhappy Jessie, the mild-mannered housewife finds herself facing a most unexpected fight for survival.
Based on the novel by Stephen King and directed by Mike Flanagan (Oculus, the surprisingly solid Ouija prequel, and Hush – another Netflix exclusive), Gerald’s Game is an intense, claustrophobic 127 Hours meets 50 Shades of Grey. Fans of the book should appreciate this mostly faithful adaptation, which keeps the story the same but makes a number of key improvements in regards to characters and their motivations.
Where it impresses the most is in its first half, as Flanagan and writer Jeff Howard implement a number of clever set-ups and foreshadowing moments for use later on, rather than having these things just pop up as they do in the novel. Spending some time with Jessie and Gerald before the handcuffs go on helps too, especially in the case of the latter, who emerges a more rounded character here. Bruce Greenwood as a sexy, slightly wolfish Gerald is quite the departure from the novel, but it works, and Greenwood really nails the character’s most defining trait – his idiot grin.
As Jessie herself, Carla Gugino is pitch-perfect, giving a strong, believable performance all the way down to her toes. She’s far meeker than her novel counterpart, but that works well for the character arc at hand. The subtext is as painfully obvious as it ever was – woman who’s spent her life running away from past traumas literally gets chained down and forced to deal with them – but the decisions and departures Flanagan makes with her coping mechanisms give it a far more organic feel, and it largely makes a lot of sense.
Certain elements, however, were stupid in the book and remain stupid here. Carel Struycken (The Fireman from Twin Peaks!) is well cast and brilliantly creepy but his inclusion still sticks out like a sore thumb (or wrist, which might be more appropriate) in an otherwise grounded and terrifying story. The ending (one of King’s worst!) is wisely trimmed and finishes on a strong note thematically, but remains a disappointment. More time could have been devoted to Jessie’s past, which is given a shorter thrift here than the novel. Not that we should want to see any more of that, which is among the most upsetting and horrible stuff King has ever written.
Nevertheless, this is an excellent adaptation of one of Stephen King’s more underrated works, by a savvy director who respects the material but makes the film his own. It’s a tense, chilling and disturbing movie with moments of shocking brutality and excellent performances from its leads. In the great pantheon of King adaptations, Gerald’s Game is a lock-in to be remembered as one of the best.
GERALD’S GAME / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: MIKE FLANAGAN / SCREENPLAY: MIKE FLANAGAN, JEFF HOWARD / STARRING: BRUCE GREENWOOD, CARLA GUGINO, CAREL STRUYCKEN / RELEASE DATE: 29TH SEPTEMBER