It's been said before, and it'll be said again: 2017 has been the year for Stephen King adaptations. And with Netflix's release of Gerald's Game, the famous author's work has yet again been plucked from the page, and given new life on the screen. While the novel seems to have a reputation as one of King's lesser works, the film is the polar opposite, as it is a claustrophobic head trip that is set to dazzle the audiences who are about to enjoy its contents.
Jessie (Carla Gugino) and Gerald Burlingame (Bruce Greenwood) head off to a secluded getaway for a weekend of marital rehab. With Gerald looking to spice things up with a little bit of kink, the couple gets off to a bad start when Jessie confronts him about his obsession with dominating her. Things only get worse when her husband dies due to a heart attack, just after he has handcuffed her to the bed. With no easy means of escape, and no one but herself in the room, Jessie's about to go through quite the interesting weekend.
So far this year, there have been two levels of Stephen King adaptation: either it's a Dark Tower level experiment, or an IT style success. Gerald's Game lands on the better side of the spectrum, as co-writer / director Mike Flanagan takes what could have been a solid hour of anthology TV and turns it into an engrossing feature film. The tension of Jessie's confinement, as well as the mental gymnastics she goes through due to her predicament, are all pitch perfect, with Carla Gugino carrying a substantial portion of the film.
Both Gugino and Bruce Greenwood turn in nuanced portrayals of a married couple on the proverbial rocks, and in the section of the film that opens on that story, they really do a good job of convincing the audience that they'd be perfectly ok if the film just focused on that story. Of course, this being a Stephen King story, things get deadly, and they get weird, with the stranger side of the spectrum allowing our duo to play different facets of their characters' psyches. While the bulk of the film is focused on Jessie's story, Greenwood's Gerald makes himself very much present throughout the narrative of Gerald's Game, without being intrusive or extreme. His character is ambiguous, being left for the audience to determine the level of his true villainy, and it shows through every piece of the finished product.
The best part about Gerald's Game, besides the presence of a powerful script with two equally luminary participants shining in its light, is the cinematography. Michael Fimognari's framing of the limited locations that the film takes place in is tight, but never restrictive for the sake of being so. Naturally flowing with the story's expanding and contracting viewpoint, it's a pretty fantastic film to watch, as well as to digest from a narrative perspective. Of course, all of this praise helps the one flaw of Gerald's Game's narrative stand out all the more.
While the film manages to bring itself in at a taut 103 minutes, the film could have been a little tighter if it didn't fall into an expository rabbit hole in its epilogue. Surely there are pieces and details that are vital to the story's ultimate catharsis, but considering how well paced the rest of the film before it was, the ending to Gerald's Game steals some of the wind from the movie's overall sails. The fact that a sequence of intense body horror and tension precedes this epilogue serves as a hard barrier between the two tones of the film, and if anything, the moments after the shock and awe of Flanagan's well-crafted film should have been shorter and sweeter.
With the thrill and punch of the better Stephen King films we've experienced, Netflix has now officially entered the Stephen King business with Gerald's Game. If this is any indication of what a continued partnership would bring, both parties should look for as many chances as they can to stay together.
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