Jessie and Gerald Burlingame are taking a much weekend trip to their secluded lake house. Their marriage is strained and their love-life has turned stagnant, but Gerald has something in mind to reignite that old flame, as it were. They arrive at their home and everything is ready: landscaping done, house cleaned and prepared, pantry and fridge ar stocked. Now it’s time for a little “afternoon delight”, so Jessie puts on a new sexy slip, that she bought especially for the occasion, and waits for Gerald in the bedroom. He pops a little blue pill and cuffs her to the bed, and then the “game” begins. However, Jessie is not fond of the rough turn Gerald’s game takes and rebuffs his attempt to fulfill what is little more than a rape fantasy. She begs him to uncuff her and they argue, but the argument takes a turn when Gerald suffers a heart attack and dies before he can unshackle Jessie.
Now it’s time for a new game, a game of survival and the clock is ticking. But she won’t go it alone, as she will be joined by subconscious manifestations of her dead husband and of herself. Unfortunately, she will also be accompanied by a ravenous stray dog and a creepy, mysterious visitor, who may or may not be a hallucination. As time passes, Jessie makes the realization that her only real chance to escape is to wrestle with the long repressed ghosts of her past.
Mike Flanagan was at the helm for Gerald’s Game, working from a script he co-wrote with Jeff Howard. These two have scripted a story that traps the viewer right there in the same room as Jessie for the duration of her ordeal, equally sharing every moment of her dread and vulnerability. The only escape for us, is to stop watching, which is impossible. No matter how disturbing or uncomfortable the subject matter is to take in, it will compel the viewer to remain steadfast and continue on regardless. I firmly believe it’s the humanity with which the more lurid subjects are handled that makes it possible to endure them.
Bruce Greenwood, as Gerald and Carla Gugino, as Jessie, have amazing chemistry and give (dare I say) career defining performances. I absolutely loved the banter between Jessie and Gerald and…well, Jessie again, with its natural ebb and flow. The exchanges between Jessie and her mental manifestations of Gerald and herself, who also quipped at each other, were caustic and brilliant and at times even amusing. Henry Thomas, who plays Jessie’s father during flashback scenes, is such a likeable actor, that it makes his portrayal of Jessie’s father so much more disturbing and despicable. Another notable performance was given by Chiara Aurelia, who played a teenage version Jessie in the aforementioned flashbacks. It’s heartbreaking to see her character’s innocence shattered through no fault of her own.
One aspect of the film that seems like it would be the easiest is one that is actually incredibly difficult – confining the bulk of the film to one location. In this case it’s primarily the bedroom of Jessie and Gerald’s lake house. Alfred Hitchcock is without a doubt the master of creating a compelling and riveting story within such a confined space or location (Rear Window, Rope, Lifeboat) to name a few, but on occasion others have also effectively pulled it off. This film is one such case, as Flanagan commands such fantastic performances and from his cast while telling such an engrossing story, that we focus less on the setting and more on the character portrayals and Jessie’s dilemma.
While this adaptation isn’t 100% faithful to the book, it’s still beautifully done. Even Stephen King, who is the harshest critic of films adapted from his books, gave Flanagan’s adaptation high praise. After seeing a rough cut back in February, King took to Twitter to say, “Saw a rough cut of Mike Flanagan’s GERALD’S GAME yesterday. Horrifying, hypnotic, terrific. It’s gonna freak you out.” And you know what? He was absolutely, fucking-A right. King is a legend at creating terrifying stories featuring otherworldly creatures or malevolent entities, but also has the innate ability to create tales where the horror is derived from people’s struggles against their own inner ghosts and demons.
Did I love this adaptation of Gerald’s Game? You’re damn right I did. It’s been quite a while since a film has given me chills or goosebumps, this one gave me both. It’s obvious that Flanagan has real reverence for King’s source material, because it shows in his approach to adapting it. I think Flanagan has earned the right to direct at least one more film based on one of King’s novels. That being said, my Little Monsters, it should go without saying that I recommend that you all watch this film. If you have Netflix, watch it as soon as possible. If you don’t, it’s absolutely worth the subscription price for one month so that you can watch it…besides, there may be some other cool horror content coming up for Halloween. So, my Little Monsters, go check it out…NOW. 9 /10