Written by Jeff Howard & Mike Flanagan
Based on the novel by Stephen King
Directed by Mike Flanagan
Starring Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Henry Thomas
Jesse and Gerald Burlingame have come to their secluded lake house to find the spark in their sex life. When Gerald decides to subject Jesse to some sex games involving having her handcuffed to the bed. After Gerald and Jesse fight about the game itself, Gerald has a heart attack and dies. Unfortunately, that’s the beginning of the terror that awaits Jesse as the reality of her circumstances forces Jesse to confront not only the dangers lurking in the dark, but also the long-buried past that she’s tried to forget.
The movie is incredibly atmospheric. With all the open windows and doors, the environment itself fills you with a sense of exposure and dread. The passage of time is handled brilliantly as well and the viewer feels as trapped as Jesse at moments. The inclusion of the voices in her head manifesting as another version of herself and Gerald are done great and those moment show the deep psychological scars that Jesse has suppressed for so many years.
Even the inclusion of the dog and its increasing menace serves as a metaphor for Jesse’s choices in life. As Jesse flashes back to a moment that defined her personality and her choices, we get to see some great acting between a young Jesse and her father, played by Henry Thomas. The subtle way he is able to manipulate her is frightening in and of itself. When she snaps out of her memory, Gerald begins to break down what will happen to her and it is equally as frightening because the plausibility of it is so visceral in the telling. Bruce Greenwood is amazing in his role and his ability to be both psychologically menacing and comforting makes you both feel for and hate Gerald for more than just getting Jesse into this mess in the first place.
Carla Gugino as Jesse is riveting. Her performance is a revelation. She is able to portray both crippling fear and fierce determination in a way that few actors can sustain throughout. You feel for Jesse every moment you’re with her and even as she is talking herself out of her own victimhood, there is a palpable sense of dread and fear of the unknown that Gugino is able to portray as Jesse.
There are moments of great triumph in Gerald’s Game and moments of visceral fear and horror which make the overall film enjoyable. Flanagan takes his time with the narrative and allows the natural horror to work rather than force those moments with unnecessary shock. Gerald’s Game is a great film that is definitely worthy of being considered one of the better Stephen King adaptations to date.