Out of the several Stephen King adaptations released this year, Netflix’s Gerald’s Game may feel the smallest. Directed by genre maven Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Ouija: Origin of Evil, Hush), the film begins when Jessie and Gerald Burlingame, played by Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood, respectively, head to a remote lake house in hopes of rekindling their relationship. Wasting no time, Gerald handcuffs Jessie to the bed posts and begins unleashing his wildest fantasy. Jessie becomes uncomfortable and asks Gerald to stop, causing the two to bicker back and forth about their troubled relationship. Mid-fight, Gerald has a heart attack and falls dead to the floor. Jessie is trapped, for the entirety of the film, on a bed with no food, no help, and a hungry dog chewing on the remains of her now dead husband.
Flanagan, a lifelong fan of King’s 1992 story, delivers unadulterated tension from the get-go and at no point lets the audience off the hook. If you thought the trailer was intense just wait until you have to experience this for a full hour and a half. Gerald’s Game is as cruel to Jessie as it is to the audience, punishing both through a series of hallucinations and flashbacks that are equally terrifying as they are heartbreaking. It’s also clear that Flanagan looked to King’s other works with Gerald’s Game, hitting Misery levels of cringe-worthy tension. The atmosphere, vibe, and pure energy in the room reach up and just barely touches Rob Reiner’s 1990 adaptation that I personally consider one of the best horror films ever made.
Flanagan never leaves the room, forcing the audience to experience Jessie’s pain with the only escape being her horrid memories, appearing like little flashes before her eyes. Just when you think being trapped on a bed was harsh enough, King’s story dives deep into Jessie’s past in which she was sexually abused by her father. Gerald’s Game takes on so many different levels of pain, offering a unique perspective on the abuse a woman goes through in her lifetime. Interestingly told from a male perspective, both King and Flanagan’s (Jeff Howard also has a writing credit), the film plays more as self-reflection than a cautionary tale. Can we be better to our significant other, or other loved ones in our lives? But I digress, Gerald’s Game is also meant to be empowering for women and offers a maybe too on-the-nose button to end the film.
While Flanagan has already proven himself to be one of the new masters of horror, Gerald’s Game shows that he’s more than a one-trick pony. He’s taken a nearly unadaptable story and turned it into an emotional, thought-provoking, intense, and even more so important powerhouse of thriller that will prove to be as timeless as Misery.
Gerald’s Game will be streaming on Netflix Friday, September 29, 2017.