It is just raining King adaptations this year, isn’t it? First we got The Dark Tower, followed by It- part one, now Netflix released Gerald’s Game with 1922 yet to come. This many King adaptations in such a short time does have the advantage in highlighting the variety of King’s work. Where The Dark Tower and It tackled these big, epic stories, Gerald’s Game is a monster of a far more intimate nature.
The movie opens with Jessie (Carla Gugino) and her somewhat older husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) going on a weekend away at their lake house to rekindle their relationship. Once at the lake house both do their best to reconnect with one another but the real purpose of the trip quickly becomes clear though: Gerald has a sex fantasy he wants to try out which involves handcuffing Jessie to the bed and then acting out some rape scenario. Since Gerald didn’t run this scenario by his wife first, things rapidly become confusing and upsetting for Jessie. Turned off by the whole thing she urges her husband to stop. Gerald becomes upset and gets a fatal heart attack.
One problem though: Jessie is still handcuffed to the bed, leaving her with limited mobility and the dreadful prospect of possibly dying from dehydration.
The focus in Gerald’s Game lies on the psychological with a good dose of existential horror making it very King-like. Chained to the bed Jessie is both physically powerless and mentally overwhelmed by her reality. She needs to deal with both her husband’s sudden demise and her own survival. In order to move on she’s forced to take a deep, hard look at her own life, facing all the fears and self-doubt deep within.
Not really going for subtlety Gerald’s Game quickly establishes being bound to the bed as a metaphor for how Jessie lead her life: her teenage years bound to her father and her adult life bound to her husband. There is a whole message here about how woman risk living being defined by the men in their lives it but it remains murky what exactly it wants to say on that matter. The movie also serves as a transformative event in Jessie’s life, starting off with an act of defiance towards her husband. She may have been a good, docile wife all those years, but to the kinky game Gerald has in mind she’s firmly saying ‘no’ and then left to her own devices following her defiance.
Gerald’s game mostly plays out as a one room drama, with actress Carla Gugino doing a splendid job carrying the movie. We really feel for her as she’s going through this horrible ordeal and as we accompany Jessie on her meanderings the lack of score in this movie makes it even more unnerving. Which is refreshing as we’ve gotten so used to musical cues to either heighten tension or tell us which emotional response we’re supposed to have.
While I really enjoyed Gerald’s Game it also left me a little confused. What exactly is the point of this story? To show how woman suffer in a trapped relationship? How women have the capacity to silently carry the weight of it all? Or also having the strength to overcome and stand up for themselves? Director Mike Flanagan, who when it comes down to it, has the capacity for horror movie making, handled the existential and psychological aspect crudely in adapting King’s novel, missing the finesse to really land that emotional punch.
If you’re looking for a different kind of Stephen King adaptation, Gerald’s Game is a pretty solid choice, featuring good performances and killer atmosphere. Despite its flaws though it’s a focused and intense head trip worthy of a look.