Gerald’s Game (2017)

The Stephen King novella Gerald’s Game is not so much a story as an exercise in literary mastery by the greatest writer of our time. King takes what is essentially an urban legend-style joke and makes the punchline existential dread. What really makes you gasp in awe about Gerald’s Game, however, is that almost the entire book takes place in just one room with pretty much just the one character. King pulls off a Houdini-like feat by handcuffing himself as much as the protagonist, but still manages to make the story utterly gripping. That’s why he is a legend.

Taking that perfect example of how to pull off a writing exercise from a man for whom just producing a classic novel is mind-numbingly simplistic and turning it into a movie is probably a harder task than King set for himself. If anyone could pull it off, it’s Mike Flanagan: a director who has brought us some of the best horror films of recent years, including Oculus and Hush. Still, I have to admit, when it was announced Flanagan would adapt Gerald’s Game as a Netflix Original movie, I was a little concerned.

Jessie (played with gusto by the terrifyingly unappreciated Carla Gugino) and her horrible husband, the titular Gerald (Bruce Greenwood, another one of those actors they call when more-famous people can’t pull off a character) are off to their holiday home in the middle of nowhere to try to spice up their marriage with a pair of handcuffs and a sturdy bed frame. Unfortunately, Gerald has a mid-bondage heart attack and dies on top of Jessie, leaving her trapped.

The rest of the novel is told by Jessie’s internal monologue as her starving, dehydrated mind psycho-analyses itself and determines exactly what went wrong in her life that led her to her fate. As such, Flanagan’s adaptation is inevitably compromised by having to leave the confines of the bed that Jessie is chained to in order to flashback to her childhood. Similarly, there are a few things that sounded spooky when King hinted at them in narration, but are a little cheesy when plainly presented in earnest, and while the novel really draws out Jessie’s plight and lets us get to know and root for her, the film, despite some padding, goes by at a blink-and-miss pace.

Still, the film is almost point-for-point faithful to the source material – not a bad thing for a King story. Likewise, as expected with Flanagan, it’s beautifully shot; Gugino and Greenwood are on point; and while I scoffed when a friend who saw the film before me complained about how gory it was, I have to admit that parts of Jessie’s plight were absolutely harrowing to watch.

With all else being equal, Flanagan set himself an impossible task and you were always going to be far better off with King’s prose. However, let’s be honest, Netflix Originals are available from your sofa, at no extra cost and require far less attention and time to appreciate than good, old-fashioned reading, so far more people will find time for the film than will get around to reading the book. If you’re the former then there are a hell of a lot of worse ways to spend two hours than treating yourself to Flanagan’s adaptation.

- Neil Sheppard

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

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