Gerald’s Game (2017)
written by Jeff Howard and Mike Flanagan
based on the novel by Stephen King
directed by Mike Flanagan
Stephen King is one of those authors whose work is hard to adapt, and although I haven’t read his 1992 novel Gerald’s Game all the way through, this new film adaptation left me with the same tepid reaction I’ve had from so many of his book-to-screen ventures. For every Cujo (1983) and Misery (1990), there is a Children of the Corn (1984) and Dreamcatcher (2003). I understand: King’s particular tone is elusive, specially when he gets into the mind of his characters and starts to explore the murky psychological waters within. And Gerald’s Game is all about murky waters.
Jesse (Carla Gugino) and Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) try to invigorate their failing marriage with a weekend at a lake house. He convinces her to try some BDSM play, handcuffing her to a bed, but a few minutes later he dies from a massive heart attack. Tied and with no way to call for help, Jesse starts to hallucinate, and eventually her mind triggers a long-repressed memory: She was molested by her father when she was twelve. And somewhere in that trauma is the key to her freedom, both literally and figuratively (this links, interestingly, to King’s Dolores Claiborne novel from the same year, in which sexual abuse to a minor is also integral to the protagonist’s arc).
It’s a great premise, but co-writer/director Mike Flanagan can’t pull it off. There’s a theatricality to the (mostly) one-person/one-set narrative that gets tiresome fast, to the point where I didn’t care much about whether Jesse would live or die. And the last-minute “twist” involving a serial killer is just plain ridiculous. I still have hope for Flanagan – he did make me close my eyes during the sequence where Jesse cuts her wrist in order to escape. But for now, I’ll just go finish up King’s book.
Carlos I. Cuevas