Leave it to Mike Flanagan, a new master in horror with a proven knack for intricately woven horror narratives, to adapt a Stephen King novel once highly considered unfilmable due to most of it taking place inside the main character’s head, all while she’s confined to a bed. Having read the novel at 19, Gerald’s Game is one that he’s long since desired to translate to film. Luckily for us, not only did he finally get to see this dream through, but with the experience under his belt, he also nailed it.
Constant Readers will find some immediate changes to the source material. The nature of the relationship between married couple Jesse (Carla Gugino) and Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) is slightly altered; they’re using this weekend getaway to try to revitalize their marriage. As with the book, their fantasy play goes very wrong when Gerald has a heart attack, dropping dead and leaving Jesse handcuffed to the bed in their lakeside home when there’s not a soul around. With a slow, painful death lying in wait for Jesse, facets of her personality emerge in her mind to aid in her survival, which means confronting deep seated pain from her past. It’s here that proves the biggest departure in an otherwise faithful adaptation; Jesse sees these facets emerge as images of both herself and her husband.
Gugino delivers perhaps the most fearless performance of her life, both deftly balancing the scared Jesse facing potential death, and the assertive Jesse within Jesse’s mind demanding survival. More than that, her gamut of emotions during her struggle leading to catharsis after finally confronting childhood trauma is breathtaking. Gugino is a veteran actor with the proven chops to handle such a complicated character. The biggest surprise, though, is upcomer Chiara Aurelia, who plays young Jesse in flashbacks. Aurelia’s turn is so emotionally devastating and powerful that it comes from someone so young is beyond impressive.
As for the horror elements, the less I say the better. But boy, are you in for an absolute treat. Fans of the book will be pleased as well. Jesse’s fevered mind gives way to some dark, terrifying stuff, so be prepared for some very creepy, unnerving moments. And some gross out moments as well. Having watched Gerald’s Game after a string of some very violent films during genre film festival Fantastic Fest, I still wasn’t prepared for a certain scene late in the film. You’ll know it when you see it, trust me. All I will say is that it left the entire audience squirming and groaning uncomfortably for roughly 2 minutes. It also caused on festival goer to pass out. The scene won’t cause hardened horror fans to faint, but it will make a very lasting impression.
Flanagan has once again knocked it out of the park. Emotionally devastating, strangely cathartic, and equally terrifying, Flanagan proves that no story is unfilmable with the right creative mind at the helm. Gugino, Greenwood, and Aurelia lend immeasurable talent to an intimate story, giving it a larger than life quality. There couldn’t have possibly been a better adaptation for this tough novel than this.
Gerald’s Game premiered at Fantastic Fest on September 24, 2017. It releases exclusively on Netflix this Friday, September 29, 2017.