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[Fantastic Fest Review] ‘Gerald’s Game’ is a Wonderful Adaptation of a Seemingly Unfilmable Stephen King Novel

[Fantastic Fest Review] ‘Gerald’s Game’ is a Wonderful Adaptation of a Seemingly Unfilmable Stephen King Novel

Stephen King film adaptations are all over the place lately, aren’t they? Things got off to a rough start this year with The Dark Tower but then Andy Muschietti’s It opened to positive reviews and became the highest grossing horror film of all time in just three weeks. Flying somewhat under the radar is Mike Flanagan’s (Absentia, Oculus, Hush, Ouija: Origin of Evil)  adaptation of King’s 1992 novel Gerald’s Game, which turns out to be among the best of all Stephen King film adaptions. It’s a shame this won’t get to be seen in theaters, as a shared viewing experience makes Gerald’s Game even better, but the film should prove to be hugely successful for Netflix and earn some good word-of-mouth among its viewer base.

Gerald Burlingame (Bruce Greenwood) and his wife Jessie (Carla Gugino) travel to their remote cabin in the woods in a last-ditch effort to spice up their marriage. Gerald’s idea of spice is handcuffing her to the bed in order to fulfill a rape fantasy he has kept from her during their many years of marriage. Unfortunately for Jessie, Gerald has a heart attack and dies before the game can begin, leaving Jessie attached to the bed with no food or neighbors anywhere in sight. What follows is a journey into Jessie’s mind as she comes to terms with an unspeakable trauma from her past while trying to figure a way out of a rather unique situation.

Considered unfilmable by many a filmmaker, Gerald’s Game has been on Flanagan’s radar ever since he read the book when he was 19 years old. He is clearly passionate about the source material, and that passion translates on screen. The script, which was co-written by Flanagan and his longtime writing partner Jeff Howard (Oculus, Before I Wake), is surprisingly faithful to the source material and treats the more difficult subject matter with the appropriate amount of sensitivity without watering it down. The minor liberties taken by the script work in the film’s favor. For example, King’s novel takes place almost entirely within Jessie’s mind as she has conversations with the various voices in her head. Flanagan and Howard get rid of most of the voices from the novel, replacing them with Gerald and an alternate version of Jessie. It’s a smart move, as Greenwood would have little to do other than corpse around had they stuck to the novel.

Gugino delivers a career-defining performance as Jessie, exhibiting strength and vulnerability in a truly horrifying (and somewhat laughable) situation. Handcuffed to a bed for the majority of her screen time, she must convey a woman who has lost her mind while also coming to terms something from her past that she repressed long ago. It helps that Flanagan shot the film in sequence in order to make Jessie’s mental journey easier for Gugino (not that she needs any help, the woman is phenomenal). As mentioned above, Greenwood’s role gets beefed up from the novel, and the film is all the better for it. His Gerald (well, Jessie’s version of Gerald) is a compelling foil for Gugino and the two play off of each other well.

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Viewers looking for a gritty horror film may find themselves disappointed with Gerald’s Game, which operates more as a psychological thriller (but let’s not get into a debate about what is and isn’t horror, shall we?). The horror present in the film comes in the form of Jessie’s trauma, both past and present, as well as a rabid dog and a nighttime visitor that may or may not be a figment of Jessie’s imagination. Gorehounds will find a lovely present for themselves during the film’s third act in a scene that rival’s the hobbling scene from Misery in terms of sheer grotesquerie. It is that scene that deserves to be seen with an audience, as the audible groans present in my screening were priceless. There are also a few macabre touches (Gerald licking a fly that has landed on his teeth) and references to King’s other works (they kept the Dolores Claiborne reference!) to reward attentive viewers.

While Gerald’s Game certainly ranks in the top tier of King adaptations, it is not perfect. What keeps the film from greatness is a lengthy exposition dump during its final minutes (readers of the book will know exactly what I’m referring to). This is where Flanagan’s and Howard’s faithfulness to King’s novel hinders the film, because it also suffers from the same flaw (the epilogue is a lengthy 50 pages of the 332-page novel).

***MINOR SPOILERS***

There really is no way to adapt King’s ending of Gerald’s Game and make it feel natural unless you remove it entirely. Unfortunately doing so would rob Jessie (and viewers) of a key moment of catharsis that feels necessary after the harrowing events that came before. So, in the end, it becomes a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils: leave out the epilogue for the sake of quality but deprive audiences of a satisfying conclusion, or include the clunky epilogue and give your audience that sublime moment of catharsis? Flanagan and Howard choose the latter, and while it does hurt the film somewhat, it is ultimately the right decision.

***END SPOILERS***

Gerald’s Game is the best adaptation that could come from King’s seemingly unfilmable novel. Featuring a powerhouse performance from Gugino and solid directing from Flanagan, the film is not to be missed. With this and Hush, Flanagan has found a perfect home in Netflix, making the wait for his adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House all the more unbearable.

Gerald’s Game is currently available for streaming on Netflix.



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COMMENTS

42 Comments
  • The chicken man

    Most likely watching this tomorrow. I have high hopes considering I have loved dearly, every single film Mike Flanagan has done. About once every couple of months I enjoy a marathon of his work.

    • Same. The man has not made a bad movie yet, IMO.

      • david

        He’s made some pretty good movies, but I thought Oculus was garbage.

        • I ADORE Oculus. Different strokes. =)

          • david

            Actually the only other movie of his that I’ve seen is Hush, but I thought that one was pretty good.

          • You’ve got Absentia, Oculus, Hush, Ouija: Origin of Evil and Gerald’s Game for horror. He also did a few dramas in the early 2000s but I haven’t seen those.

          • The chicken man

            Absentia is a low budget dream come true! I was hooked on him after that one.

          • It’s a great one!

          • Boydon

            lol is everybody just willingly ignoring “before i wake”?

          • It hasn’t been released here in the states so I haven’t really included it.

          • SutterKane

            Before I wake was pretty cool to me but it’s not really a horror movie, more like dark fantasy.

          • Angela M Campany

            He has a great movie record, to be fair.

          • Angela M Campany

            Same .

          • Creepshow

            The ending is a gut punch. I respect films that take that approach, and do it effectively.

        • SutterKane

          And, to me, that’s one of his best. I loved the way it cut between time periods with ease and how well placed the scares were. That, to me, shows how good a director he is more then any other. A movie about a haunted mirror should have never turned out that well made.

          • He is REALLY good with scene transitions. It shows in Gerald’s Game too.

        • The chicken man

          I couldn’t disagree more.

        • Garbageface

          He’s made some pretty good movies, but I thought Hush was garbage

          • J Jett

            i liked HUSH up until the killer took the mask off. for some reason once he did, it just lost it’s creepiness/scariness to me.

          • Angela M Campany

            Yea that mask part was a huge problem for me too. Bugs me to this day.

      • Boydon

        ‘before i wake’ was one of the worst films i’ve seen in recent memory.

        • It hasn’t been released in the States so I haven’t watched it.

          • Boydon

            well then, you can’t claim that he has no bad movie under his belt if you haven’t seen it.

            anyway, i was absolutely shocked by just how unimaginably terrible it was, no exaggeration, because i’d come to expect solid work from him.

          • Then here is my edit: I think the 5 horror films I’ve seen of Flanagan’s (all except Before I Wake) are all great

          • J Jett

            Trace, i loved BEFORE I WAKE. i’ve watched it a couple of times and i like it each time. knowing you the little that i do (from your articles) i think you may actually end up liking the film too. it’s beautiful and heartbreaking and sweet (in some scenes) and the “creature” scenes are well done imo.

          • Good to know!

  • SutterKane

    Really dug the movie, the “scene” near the end was one of the most brutal I’ve ever watched, and I’ve scene just about everything.

    Only complaint I have is about the last 10 minutes, but having read the book, you really can’t get mad at a filmmaker for staying faithful to source material he obviously cherishes, so I’ll deal with it. Everything that came before it was gold, and Gugino deserves on Oscar/Emmy nomination, whatever Netflix movies qualify for, it her best performance ever.

  • Matthew Hill

    He’s made some pretty good movies, but I thought Hush was garbage

    • Angela M Campany

      I found it (HUSH) very Lifetime-ish.

  • Trace! You’re still alive? I thought you left!

    • I’m still here! Got a promotion at my day job so my writing time is limited. =(

      • That’s incredibly bittersweet! Lol. But mostly good I suppose! Congrats!

        Random question, do you know if anyone here is gonna do a ‘best movies at fantastic fest’ list or anything like that? Gotta love those lists lol

        • Hmmmm I may be persuaded to write that. It was me, Kalyn and my husband Ari covering the fest for BD this year so we can probably pool our thoughts together. I have a few more reviews to write tomorrow and some interviews to transcribe on Sunday, but I may do one of those. Thanks for the suggestion!

          • Oh awesome that you got to attend even after all the controversy. Hope it was awesome as it seems!

            No worries if not, I was just curious! Lists are always fun even if subjective! Glad to see you haven’t left tho! Congrats again!

          • Thanks! And my top choices in case I DON’T get to write that list: Killing of a Sacred Deer, Bodied (not horror but it’s phenomenal), Good Manners, Gerald’s Game and Anna and the Apocalypse.

          • Awesome thank you! (Can’t wait for ‘Sacred Deer’!)

          • It’s AMAZING. I’m going to write a review for it since our guy Benedict gave it a negative review at Cannes.

          • Oh no haha gonna start some beef between the two of you lol. I expect it to be wonderfully weird!

      • J Jett

        yeah, Trace, it’s awesome you’re still writing here! we like you! 🙂

  • Sky Commander

    I feel she could simply break the bedpost if enough strength was applied it didn’t look all that sturdy

  • Jimmy Cthulhuhan

    No nudity, or at least a more revealing negligee. Failed use of Gugino. 0/5

    Kiddin! (sort of…) I (otherwise) agree. Pretty good overall, but that overly long and hokey Lifetime Movie-of-the-Week epilogue soured the experience somewhat. I never minded that part in the book… -shrug-

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