Review: Gerald's Game

Director(s)Mike Flanagan
Principal CastCarla Gugino as Jessica
Chiara Aurelia as Young Jessica
Bruce Greenwood as Gerald
Henry Thomas as Tom
Kate Siegel as Sally
Carel Struycken as Moonlight Man
Release Date 2017
Language(s)English
Running Time103 minutes

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- Mike Flanagan is one of the best horror directors in the game right now and this adaptation is the some of the best proof. Gerald’s Game is one of the few King stories I’ve read so when I saw Flangan was directing, I was intrigued in seeing how he’d adapt the unconventional narrative style the story uses. Flanagan and Jeff Howard both deserve applause for synthesizing the ideas of the novel in a suspenseful and easy to digest way.

The story follows a couple, Gerald and Jessica, as they go off on a trip to rekindle the spark in their marriage. After handcuffing Jessica to the bed and downing a few viagra, Gerald tries to initiate some rape-play which Jessica finds too disturbing to continue anymore. After she rejects his advances, he dies suddenly of a heart attack and she finds herself trapped in an abandoned house, handcuffed to a bed, and completely alone. The initial build-up to all of this is handled with an great eye for detail. Issues that come to plague Jessica in her struggle to survive are set up early on, so subsequent reveals and twists feel sweet and satisfying.

The story primarily takes place through a series of conversations Jessica has with projections of her subconscious. Representations of herself, her late husband, traumatic memories of her family and the situation that they placed her in, and nightmare scenarios plague her as she attempts to make out what’s real and what’s relevant to keeping her alive. As Jessica struggles to survive, she’s forced to navigate her trauma and the way she’s attempted to handle it throughout her life. Her story goes to dark places and if is presented with the respect and seriousness it deserves. There are hard scenes to watch, but they’re never exploitative or voyeuristic. They exist to remind you of the uncomfortable truth, but aren’t visceral or provocative outside of that. The deplorable nature of the act is horrifying enough.

A lot of the movie rides on Carla Gugino’s performance. She’s the protagonist and has to play a women who goes through some heartbreaking and emotionally complex realizations about herself and the way she’s dealt with deep seated trauma. Watching the layers of herself slowly fade away to the core of who she is is amazing, and you can feel the intensity of her desire to get to heart of what ails her. Gugino also talks to herself for most of the movie, but breathes life into the conversation so you always feel like something’s going on. The entire movie is her talking to projections of her subconscious, one of the avatars being her subconcious personified as a clone of herself. She manages to be just as convincing talking to herself ( aka nothing in the room) as she does when she talks to Gerald. It’s a testament to how well she threw herself into the role.

I love this movie because I never thought it would be something that could be adapted (a fairly common sentiment). The way that the ideas and discussions are streamlined into easy to follow story-lines gives the movie a more complete and tight feeling. Rarely do I like a movie for than a book, but this is one of those rare exceptions. The adaptation gives Jessica far more agency, which is important because the heart of the movie is learning how to deal with trauma. More agency means more ability to introspectively act and engage in a more thorough catharsis. Her journey through her trauma is moving and never comes at the cost of the more exciting elements of the story. The hard to imagine gory scene from the novel makes its way here and is just as hard to watch. It all just comes to demonstrate how well the adaptation understood the source material and the strengths of a film over a book. It only takes what it needs and does its best to cover the sentiments of what it doesn’t directly copy over.

Report Card

TLDRGerald’s Game is one of the best King adaptations to date. It’s a touching tale about overcoming trauma and reclaiming agency. There are certainly visceral scares, but the real horror comes from understanding of the way we try and deal with our pain.
Rating9.5/10
Grade A+

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

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