A rare addition to the list of good Stephen King film adaptations, Gerald’s Game also impressively succeeds at making the practically unfilmable source material work as cinema.
I enjoyed the book fine when I read it many years ago, but I’d never have picked it as an obvious Stephen King novel to adapt for the screen. A story that mostly takes place inside the mind and memories of its main character as she lies handcuffed to the bed doesn’t sound like a cinematic proposition, to put it mildly. Though Mike Flanagan’s film doesn’t quite reach the heights of the best Stephen King adaptations, it’s a tense and well-made horror thriller anchored by a couple of excellent performances.
The film opens with a married couple, Jessie (Carla Gugino) and Gerald (Bruce Greenwood), as they drive towards an isolated idyllic lake house where they hope to re-ignite their marriage of eleven years. Gerald, a successful attorney, is older than Jessie, and seems to be in charge of their getaway, which includes crazy expensive gourmet steaks and some kinky games in the bedroom involving Viagra and real handcuffs. Uncertain but smiling, Jessie goes along with her husband’s fantasies and lets him handcuff her to the bed posts, until she realises that his idea of sexy veers into a full-blown creepy rape fantasy (he even leaves the front door open for the sake of realism). Pliant no longer, she pushes Gerald off and the two have a screaming match, before Gerald’s heart gives up and he collapses on top of her, dead from a heart attack.
The whole thing happens in a matter of minutes and it takes a while for Jessie to grasp the full horror of her predicament: trapped in her handcuffs and with no visitors due at the lake house for days, she faces the very real possibility of dying from dehydration. Unless a starving stray dog that wanders inside the house and starts nibbling on Gerald’s dead body decides to go for fresher meat.
At this point, the movie performs its neatest trick by “resurrecting” Gerald as Jessie’s hallucination, an exaggerated version of her late husband who voices every fear passing through Jessie’s increasingly unstable and frantic mind. The angel on her shoulder meanwhile is a vision of herself as tougher, more self-assured Jessie (with impeccable make-up). The scenes between Greenwood and Gugino as two Jessies are outstanding, giving both actors some juicy material. The only time the movie leaves the bedroom is for the flashback scenes of a traumatic incident in Jessie’s adolescence, which lends a deeper layer to Jessie’s current situation and also holds a key to her survival.
Though there’s a couple of low-key jump scares, for the most part the movie stays away from the sort of loud obnoxious horror tricks that plagued the recent It, sticking with long takes and absence of score. The film’s only real weakness is the decision to stay faithful to the original ending: to say that the book’s ending is silly and clunky as hell would be an understatement. To the movie’s credit, it executes it as well as it could possibly be, and the last ten minutes don’t ruin the experience, but I do wish that some things just didn’t get explained and remained confined to the realm of the supernatural.
P.S. I did remember that a certain climactic moment in the book was quite gruesome and gory, but I was still unprepared for how disturbing it was to watch it onscreen. I’m so wimpy about some things I’m never ever watching 127 Hours.