Horror fans the world over just can't seem to get enough Stephen King adaptations this year. In the past few months, we've seen the commercial and critical failure of The Dark Tower, followed by the wildly successful remake of It. But these were both theatrically released blockbusters based on epic stories. For this latest effort, our collective Stephen King fever says, "let's scale it back a bit." And with that, we have the Netflix original film Gerald's Game, based on King's 1992 novel.
The film features Jessie (Carla Gugino) and Gerald (Bruce Greenwood), who have absconded to a cozy, secluded lake house for the weekend in hopes of reinvigorating their lackluster, 10-year marriage. The Netflix thumbnail image says it all, really: Gerald's got Jessie's hands splayed out and shackled to either bed post, you know, for sex purposes. And here we are in our living rooms, deliberate voyeurs to this aging but still beautiful, rich white couple's vanilla sex play—it's so embarrassing! Lucky for me, I do most of my Netflix and chilling by myself, but I can only imagine the awkward conversations that couples might have around choosing this title. "You liked Misery, right? Those handcuffs will surely tide us over while we wait for the final installment in the increasingly dismal Fifty Shades of Gray series... It may be hard to root for a woman with two houses and seemingly no real problems, but hey, let's give it a try!"
Anyway, this movie is a little better than it looks. Director Mike Flanagan has a decent streak of creepy films in his catalog. Just last year, he directed the promising Ouija: Origin of Evil and the suspenseful home invasion picture Hush (also starring Gugino as the deaf but formidable heroine). Even the horror Oculus (2013) about a dumbass mirror coming to life and killing people has its moments, which is just to say, we're in adequate hands.
The plot thickens early and terribly when Gerald drops dead of a heart attack. On one side of the bed we've got an iPhone, just out of reach and (we learn later) drained of battery. The keys to the handcuffs are across the room, there's a hungry stray dog at the food of the bed—basically, things are hopeless for Jessie in every direction.
You may worry some about a premise as simple as this. How will we get 103 minutes of thrills from an image so static? But don't worry: Jessie has a rich inner life and a delirious imagination, and it's not long in movie time before she starts to lose it. The ghost of her husband stands up from the foot of the bed for some sobering real talk, not just with regard to Jessie's current situation, but also their doomed marriage and all the many faults he's come to find in her character. Next up, a stronger, more resilient version of Jessie joins the conversation to stir up demons from the past that chained-to-bed Jessie would rather not explore. Throw in some daddy issues, what may or may not be an imaginary being lurking around the room called Moonlight Man—and don't forget about that hungry dog. Point is, there's more than enough plot to go around.
This will remind you some of 1995's Dolores Claiborne (one of King's very best) in content and The Good Marriage (2014) in style and scope. Gerald's Game isn't earth shattering, and it's definitely not sexy. Still, the movie works as a late night, B-picture experience, bolstered primarily by its smart dialogue and emotional cunning. If you ask me, it's the best King adaptation of the year.