“What are women for?”
It’s both a shame and miracle Gerald’s Game went to Netflix. On one hand, Mike Flanagan was able to adapt his favorite Stephen King novel because of Netflix’s willingness to be bold. Really, only Netflix could be behind this seemingly “unfilmmable” adaptation. It should be readily accessible because of its method of release but it demands to be seen on as big a screen with as large an audience as possible.
That’s not because of major action set pieces or breathtaking imagery (there’s an amazing eclipse scene, though). It deserves to be seen in a big theater to experience a collective connection with its shackled star.
Ironically, the handcuffs Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) puts on his wife Jessie (Carla Gugino) to revamp their dead sex life during a weekend getaway only lets its Gugino spread her wings.
After Jessie is unwillingly chained to the bedposts, finding her husband’s secret desire for something more playful too abusive, Gerald suffers a fatal heart attack (induced from his Viagra), cracking his skull falling to the ground.
This as high concept of a film as you can get. Man dies with his wife chained to the bed in a getaway home with no one to hear any screams for miles. It’s only a matter of a day or two before Jessie dies as she frantically has to piece together a way to get out of the all too tight handcuffs strapped to a reinforced bed frame.
Save an unmounted bookshelf holding a glass of water and some books, all resources including an iPhone and the handcuff keys are just inches out of reach.
While all hope begins to evaporate, Flanagan’s true genius unfolds, bringing Jessie’s thoughts and inner dialogue that made the novel untouchable for years to life. Going through a traumatic experience without any food or water in sight, Jessie’s thoughts via hallucinations of Gerald and herself in the room giving her advice and talking points.
Not only does it become a puzzle to find a way out of this trap but also an enlightening experience for Jessie as she grapples with memories of her sexually abusive father (played by the immensely underemployed Henry Thomas), coming to the understanding she’s not at fault for any of her abuse then or the current situation.
Hopefully, all this doesn’t get lost on audiences as the credits role considering the show-stopping piece that leads to her release that’ll surely set the blogosphere on fire come Friday. There are few moments in film as shocking and gross as when Jessie slips out of her first handcuff. It’s absolutely wonderful.
(DISCLAIMER: If you’re easily disturbed by gore, do not watch after Jessie breaks the glass. But it’s a highly effective moment worth peering throug your fingers for a second)
It’s not an easy scene to shake largely thanks to the brilliant prosthetic work at play but also Gugino’s immersive, showstopping performance. Flanagan also really pushes the envelope creating an atmosphere using only sounds from inside the bedroom and house’s exterior to provide the film’s “score,” further placing the audience in Jessie’s mind-bending experience- giving clues to what’s real or not.
That becomes an even more important feature when Jessie sees a Hills Have Eyes and Ed Gein-inspired man in the room at night along with a Cujo inspired dog gnawing away at Gerald’s body every day, a constant and frightening reminder to Jessie that she’s often too thoughtful despite the right intentions.
Flanagan directs the hell out of every scene, creating an expansive universe in a single location with taut direction thanks to his steady DP Michael Fimognari and his own editing, creating an increasingly claustrophobic and hallucinogenic atmosphere.
Even if it’s just that scene, Gerald’s Game will be carved in your head for years to come. A near perfect Stephen King adaptation only tripped up by an all too clean but wholly necessary ending.