Written by: Mike Flanagan & Jeff Howard
Starring: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Carel Struycken, Henry Thomas, Kate Siegel
Many works of fiction have been deemed unadaptable for a bevy of reasons stretching from fantasy novels with far too dense world-building to translate to the big screen among others. While many of Stephen King’s novels received the screen adaptation treatment, one remained as the book that could not possibly be turned into a movie. Lucky for us the right group of people came together to make Gerald’s Game with its vital story receiving the proper visual representation.
Heading to a remote cabin to rekindle their relationship, Jessie (Carla Gugino) and Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) arrive for the vacation. Upon their arrival, they decide to enjoy some sex games where Gerald handcuffs Jessie to the bedpost. However, when Gerald dies of a heart attack with Jessie still cuffed, she must find a way to seek help and survive before the elements or her body give up on her.
Talk about being stuck in a compromising situation. Jessie really could not have been in a worse spot than where she finds herself in this feature. Handcuffed to the sides of the bed where she cannot bring her hands together and in a nightgown. Just not a good situation and definitely serves as horrid nightmare fuel. With the lack of motion of this story, it makes it both easy and extremely difficult to tell on a visual level. This is mostly why this story remained with the tag of it being unadaptable with most of the dialogue occurring within the head of Jessie. It certainly makes it easy in regard to locations and other budgetary facets, but how can one person strapped to a bed continue to visually engage for the length of a feature film?
Well, you call in the horror expert in Mike Flanagan. Never failing in his projects, the work Mike Flanagan has put into this genre is otherworldly, and taking on the challenge of Gerald’s Game and succeeding to this degree might be his greatest achievement. In order to help visualize the conversations Jessie has internally, they bring her consciousness out in the form of herself and her recently deceased husband, Gerald. Most likely the only play here on a visual level, but the way Flanagan dynamically utilized the room adds continuous horror into the story, especially when you have “Death” on the horizon. Any room has its inherent horror from the nooks and crannies that could be hiding something. We’ve all been there in our dark room, perhaps envisioning something is hiding in the darkness. Well, Jessie experiences this but without the safety of hiding under some covers for protection. She is just there for the taking and Flanagan lets this environmental horror emanate throughout.
Fighting to survive becomes the name of the game here. With a limited range of motion, so much of what she needs remains firmly out of her proximity. To get to anything remotely near her she needs to stretch with all of her might. It certainly does not help that Gerald had to use police-worthy handcuffs for this game, which one cannot slip out of without some serious damage to one’s hand. Now, I certainly would not spoil any aspect of this story but there is a scene where an attempt is made to get her hand through the cuff. From seeing plenty of movies with gore, no scene in my movie-watching life churned my stomach more than this particular scene did within this film. A scene where I could not look away and felt absolutely nauseous in the aftermath. Man, Flanagan sure has a thing for degloving and I wanted to put in that warning for anyone thinking of watching this film, which you should.
The emotional undercurrent lining Jessie’s journey for survival comes from surviving horrible abuse from her father. One she still needs to recover from and her conscience appearing as Gerald does nothing but pester her about the past and how she handled everything. Fitting considering it’s her own mind speaking to her and what her husband represents. A man not sexually gratified to be with her and the fantasy he conjured up in order to spice things up falls directly into the category of topics she would not like to touch at all. It comes full circle in such a meaningful way towards the send, which really hammers home the point of this entire experience.
Other than feeling utterly nauseous, my biggest takeaway from this feature remains how Hollywood has failed Carla Gugino. Her stunning performance here demonstrates a level of screen command not many could possibly handle. With most, if not all, of the attention on her for the entirety of the story, she needs to carry everything and she does it with such ease. Gugino carries the pain and the terror of her situation along with the melancholic streak running through her past. She also does pretty well in her more vindictive conscience speaking back to her. She makes this movie shine along with Flanagan’s direction.
From unadaptable to unforgettable, Gerald’s Game hits all of the hallmarks of a successful horror film and succeeds despite the limitations of its surroundings. Mike Flanagan and Carla Gugino exemplify what makes them such an excellent duo in the way they bring this seemingly difficult story to life in such a meaningful manner. By the end, you may feel nauseous but also fulfilled and confused with the levels of reality and pain involved with this story. Through it all, it becomes a thrilling experience I had no idea would strike quite as it did. A smashing success.