Stephen King adaptations really are in vogue right now.
Back in August we had the mediocre Dark Tower, which was met with a universal sigh. Then, even more recently, there was the excellent IT adaptation which I had the pleasure of reviewing. Both of these were, of course, cinematic outings, but King’s latest – Gerald’s Game – has launched straight onto the media giant we all know and love: Netflix.
On paper, Gerald’s Game packs a really great premise into a tight, 2-hour package: Jessie and Gerald Burlingame (Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood, respectively) want to spice up their dwindling marriage. Seemingly at Gerald’s suggestion, the couple head to an isolated cabin which has been in Jessie’s family for some time. On arrival, things begin to heat up quicker than you can say “127 Hours”, as Gerald handcuffs his wife to a sturdy bed and begins popping some male-enhancing blue pills.
Fast-forward about 10 minutes, and Gerald’s laying dead on the floor – his wife still cuffed to the bed’s sturdy posts. Nobody is coming for days, and Jessie’s mental state is quickly deteriorating. Cue hallucinations, screaming, and hauntingly uncomfortable childhood memories.
As I said: on paper, this is a great concept. Everybody loves a good survival film, and the added twist of an S&M game gone awry makes for an engaging first act. But things rapidly grind to a halt when you’re over an hour in, and Jessie has made little progress in freeing herself from her literal, and mental, shackles. I can wholeheartedly appreciate that screaming is the natural response to being trapped without any foreseeable escape, but watching Carla Gugino screech for long stretches only carries a narrative so far.
Okay, that may be unfair: the two leads do a great job of carrying the piece, considering they make up an overwhelming bulk of the actors in the film. Bruce Greenwood is brilliant in giving Gerald a real sense of character, which in turn bolsters the emotional backstory to the couple’s volatile relationship. It’s arguably cheap to have hallucinations explain much of the exposition, but there’s enough witty dialogue to prevent things from spiralling into the mundane.
Where the film really excels is in its handing of some very dark and weighty themes. I won’t drift into spoilers, but the flashbacks to Jessie’s past really give a sense of importance to who is otherwise a relatively underwhelming character. In fact, I’d argue that Chiara Aurelia, who plays the young Jessie, does an even better job than her older counterpart. Which is impressive, considering the diminished screentime she commands.
Now, I’ll say this: I really like Stephen King. But I’ll admit that some of his novels suffer from insane endings which feel completely rushed and not at all in line with the rest of the story. Unfortunately, Gerald’s Game is a prime example of this: the closing scenes are laughably out of place. I won’t spoil anything, but just know that the film pursues an avenue which initially feels like a neat little side story, and makes more tenuous links than a rusting fence. Gerald’s Game is one of the King novels that I haven’t checked out yet, so certain characters may make more sense on the page, but this certainly isn’t a story that seamlessly translates to the screen.
However, despite everything derailing slightly towards the end, I can’t say that I hated Gerald’s Game. Far from it; there’s some real solid performances throughout, and some mature subject matter that, while uncomfortable, is handled respectfully. It’s a film which suffers from some laughably misguided twists and turns, but worth checking out with a drunken group of Netflix-loving friends.
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It's not the worst Stephen King adaptation of late, but Gerald's Game suffers from some severe pacing issues, and a couple of twists that are more laughable than shocking.
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