Director: Mike Flanagan
Starring: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Carel Struycken, Henry Thomas, Kate Siegel
Run Time: 103 mins
2017 has been quite the year for film adaptations of Stephen King novels, varying in quality and success. The Dark Tower sunk after it was released to terrible reviews back in August and It has been a critical and financial juggernaut. Gerald’s Game is a lot smaller in scale compared to the latter two films, a ‘Netflix Original’ (you can read my rather strong opinion of this format here), an adaptation of King’s 1992 novel.
In case you’re not familiar with the novel, Gerald’s Game is about a sex game gone horrifically wrong between the titular Gerald and his wife, Jessie. Gerald handcuffs Jessie to the bed and suffers a fatal heart attack with Jessie still tied. The film details her struggle to free herself and at the same time, they may have accidentally left the front door open where a hungry stray dog is waiting for its food…
Gerald’s Game is directed by Mike Flanagan who has proven himself multiple times in the horror genre. He did a good job with Oculus, a film that was mostly pretty good other than being overlong Hush, a Netflix Original Film that I really liked and directed Ouija: Origin of Evil and pulling off the incredible feat of U-turning the terrible reception to the first film with his strong second film. The material definitely suits him and if there’s anyone who can do a good job of it, it’s him.
Gerald’s Game is an interesting piece of work – it takes King’s strong concept and implements it pretty well and there are moments where it is thematically enriching. However, for the majority of the film’s runtime, Flanagan’s film resorts to exposition and I found it very challenging to empathise with the film’s characters. Luckily, Flanagan manages to craft a genuinely creepy ending which allows the film to leave on a high note and ties the narrative in beautifully – it’s a shame that the majority of the film is a slog to get through before we are rewarded.
A stronger script would have really worked wonders for Flanagan and could have really elevated the overall quality of the film. It’s a real shame characters tell audiences the information we need to know rather than being shown. King’s novel is quite lengthy and it feels as if Flangan and collaborator Mike Howard’s script has tried to condense a lot of the material into monologues. This makes the film feel oddly like a stage play at times and less cinematic. Flanagan clearly has respect for the material – it’s a faithful adaptation and there are even subtle nods to other Stephen King works. It’s just a shame he didn’t know how to make his script work for the big screen.
At least the cast are up to the task of making the most of the opportunity. Carla Gugino is excellent as Jessie, who excels as she becomes increasingly desperate to be released from her struggle and a character whose past comes back to haunt her. Bruce Greenwood gives a particularly nuanced performance as Gerald, a character who is tired, stuck in a rut but also deeply controlling. Both actors do a great job in portraying the weariness of their characters – it is clearly a marriage that has reached its end and they are both clutching at straws to try and continue it. Their relationship is awkward and both hide their true feelings from each other.
Unfortunately though, it’s hard to root for unrelatable characters. I found Gerald to be despicable and his death didn’t have any emotional resonance at all. I found it hard to even root for Gugino’s Jessie at times, a character so gullibly ruled by the patriarch and someone who hasn’t done anything with her life except feeling sorry for herself.
It’s a welcome relief that Flanagan manages to make up for the film’s problems with an ending that is genuinely chilling and emotionally resonant. I’m a big believer that it’s always better for a disappointing film to pick up at the end rather than the beginning as audiences will leave on a high note. The ending beautifully allows its narative to come full-circle and is thematically rewarding. Perhaps a rewatch would allow for me to pick up on some of the more subtle aspects that feature in its ending and that would elevate my opinion of the film.
Another high point of the film is Michael Fimognari’s cinematography. Fimognari knows when to hold onto a shot rather than resorting to quick cuts and there are a couple of simply awe-inspiring shots on a beach mid-way into the film. The same can’t be said for The Newton Brother’s score which adds nothing to the film and isn’t memorable in the slightest. A real shame as they have done much better work in the past particularly with Oculus.
Gerald’s Game is ultimately not the slamdunk it should have been and it oddly feels the most distanced from Flanagan’s directorial style compared to his other works. It’s always refreshing to see directors try something new but the film is squandered by a weak script which makes the grave mistake of telling rather than showing. Luckily, the good performances from its cast manage to elevate the film and Flanagan sticks the ending allowing the film to conclude on a high note. It’s a solid effort but Flanagan doesn’t manage to reach the heights of his previous work.