by Patrick Bromley
I can still remember reading Stephen King's Gerald's Game back when it was published in 1992. I was on a family trip to the woods of Wisconsin and brought the book along with me to read during "down time," but then proceeded to do nothing but lose myself in its pages, skipping out on fishing trips and outings into "town" so that I could devour the entire novel in a matter of days. It seemed, even on that initial reading, to be an unfilmable book, consisting mostly of one woman chained to a bed, the prose narrating her inner monologue in a way that would not translate to film. Combine that with some pretty graphic sex and violence and I all but wrote off the chances of Gerald's Game ever becoming one of the many, many King novels to get the big screen treatment.
But here it is, 2017, and Gerald's Game has indeed been adapted, albeit with a catch: rather than getting the big-screen treatment, it has been produced as an original film for Netflix, where it just debuted after premiering at Austin's Fantastic Fest earlier last week. Directed and co-written (with Jeff Howard) by Mike Flanagan -- who has long considered the movie to be a dream project -- Gerald's Game casts the great Carla Gugino as Jesse Burlingame, who travels up to a remote cabin with her husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) for a weekend of reconnecting, mostly in the physical sense. Gerald's got some kinky shit planned involving handcuffing Jesse to the bed, but then has a heart attack and dies on top of her, leaving her trapped and helpless and alone with no one to hear her cries. And then there's that hungry dog who has wandered in, looking for something to eat...
Those familiar with Stephen King's writing will know what a fan he is of the internal monologue, a conceit that works well on the page but which is very, very difficult to visualize. Flanagan's solution is obvious but elegant: he simply has Jesse imagine another, stronger version of herself (one who's not chained to a bed) to talk to, as well as a vision of a still-living Gerald who pops up to poison her mind. It gives Gugino the opportunity to play a much different incarnation of the same character, giving her an even greater showcase with which to blow us all away with her range and talent. It affords Bruce Greenwood the opportunity to create more of a character, seeing as his checks out in the first act; it would be easy to pitch Gerald as a sadistic, controlling asshole -- which he kind of is -- but Greenwood wisely plays him as someone you know. What is most impressive about the performances of both actors is that they are able to bring to life a very specific voice King uses for his inner monologues. It's the not same as his regular prose; it has a unique sort of edge every time he uses it. Gugino and Greenwood deliver this material exactly as it should sound.