When I came across the trailer of “Gerald’s Game”, I was rather perplexed for good reasons. The movie is based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King, and that novel seems to be nearly impossible to be made into a good movie considering that most of its story is confined in one single space along with its heroine. In addition, the novel is not exactly one of King’s best works, and I wonder whether it could have been more taut and effective if it had been a short story or novella instead.
Anyway, Mike Flanagan, who previously directed “Oculus” (2013) and “Ouija: Origin of Evil” (2016), has wanted to make King’s book into a movie for a long time, and I am happy to report that he not only gets his wish but also succeeds in making a solid horror thriller film to entertain us. Although it loses its grip on our attention during last 15 minutes, the movie is still a dark, morbid fun on the whole thanks to Flanangan’s competent direction and its two lead performers’ good performance, and it is also one of better film adaptations from King’s stories.
Like many other King’s stories, the movie begins with a seemingly mundane setting. Jessie Burlingame (Carla Gugino) and her husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) are about to go to their small cottage located in some remote rural area for having their own private time, and we see them packing their respective luggages at first. As they enjoy their drive to the cottage, everything looks fine to them, and they do not pay much attention to a rather disturbing news report heard from their car radio, which is always a bad sign in countless thriller films.
When Gerald packed his luggage, he put a couple of handcuffs in the luggage, and we come to learn that he is going to play a kinky sex game with his wife’s reluctant consent. Jessie does not like this much, but it seems her husband really needs some excitement in their marriage, so she lets both of her arms respectively handcuffed to a big wooden bed not long after they arrive at their cottage.
When Gerald becomes rougher than expected on the bed, Jessie asks him to stop, and that is when a serious trouble happens. While she and Gerald argue with each other, Gerald suddenly has a heart attack and then dies, and Jessie soon finds herself in an utterly helpless circumstance. With her arms still handcuffed to the bed, she cannot go to the bathroom where Gerald put the handcuff keys, and, to make matters worse, there will be no one to help her in and around the cottage for several days at least.
As she desperately tries to think of any possible way for survival, she comes to talk with two sets of different thoughts in her mind. While one is represented by her dead husband, the other one is represented by her stronger self, and we get a number of darkly humorous moments as Jessie constantly interacts with them. While her dead husband cynically and pessimistically mocks her circumstance, her stronger self makes Jessie become more determined to survive by any means necessary, and she is surprised to see how resourceful she can be for her survival.
Meanwhile, the adapted screenplay by Flanagan and his co-adapter Jeff Howard doles out one good suspenseful moment after another. There is a tense moment involved with a cup of water, and then there is a gruesome moment featuring one hungry stray dog which cannot help but follow its instinct. As the sky is darkened, the mood becomes more fearful than before, and Jessie is more frightened as it becomes quite possible that somebody breaks into the cottage.
In such a terrifying and despairing situation like this, her exhausted mind comes to regress to a traumatic secret in her childhood, which has been repressed in her mind for many years. I will not describe further what happened to her, but I guess I can tell you that young performer Chiara Aurelia is convincing as young Jessie while Henry Thomas is effectively despicable as someone responsible for her trauma.
As she keeps struggling with her grueling ordeal, Jessie comes to us as a vivid human character we can root for, and Carla Gugino gives what may be her best performance to date. Ably carrying the movie during most of its running time, Gugino did a good job of conveying to us her character’s physical and psychological torments, and she also has some fun when she plays her character’s stronger self. While suitably twisted at times, Bruce Greenwood supports his co-star well during their scenes, and he clearly relishes a number of moments when his dead character wryly taunts Jessie.
The main flaw of the movie is its third act, which becomes far less compelling after a certain narrative plot point. While I can tell you that it is mainly the fault of King’s novel, I think the movie could have improved itself considerably through shortening its third act. In fact, I would not complain at all if the movie just stopped at that narrative plot point.
Nevertheless, “Gerald’s Game”, which is currently available on Netflix, remains to be an entertaining genre piece despite its notable weak aspects, and it deserves to be mentioned along with “It” (2017), another recent successful film based on Stephen King’s novel. It is not great, but it is as well-made as you can expect from it, and you will certainly appreciate the efforts put into it.