'Gerald's Game' Combines Pulpy Thrills With Psychological Torment

One reason that author Stephen King has had so many of his stories adapted into films and TV series, is the diversity of the terrors he explores. This year has already seen the fantasy adventure The Dark Tower and a killer clown feeding on fear with IT, not to mention the variety of different TV series made from King's work. With the Netflix adaptation of Gerald's Game, viewers are treated to a much more insular and grounded work of King's - one which might be the most faithful King adaptation of the year.

In hopes of spicing up their marriage which has grown stagnant after 11 years, Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) convinces Jessie (Carla Gugino) to head up to a remote vacation house for a sex-filled escape from their routine life. The only other living things the couple encounters on their trek is a starving stray dog, instantly putting an unsettling tone on this escapade.

Gerald's desires involve restraining Jessie with handcuffs to the bed, a "game" in which she's happy to oblige. Once the game has begun, however, Gerald suffers a heart attack and falls to the floor, unresponsive to Jessie's calls.

As Jessie struggles to figure out ways to survive her situation, the isolation forces her to confront repressed psychological trauma. The situation forces her to realize similarities in her relationship with her husband and her abusive father, conjuring all manner of metaphorical demons. It's also possible that these fears aren't merely in Jessie's head, as this experience has pushed her to the brink of sanity, and makes the viewers question if there really is a monster lurking in the shadows.

Gerald's Game has been one Stephen King story that many thought would be impossible to convert to a film, as so much of the story is told through the mental perspective of one character locked in a room. Director Mike Flanagan found not only great ways at personifying these inner voices in ways that work cinematically, but his casting of Gugino as Jessie makes for a riveting experience.

Flanagan's past films, like Oculus and Ouija: Origin of Evil, have been character-based stories whose scares come from supernatural elements. With Gerald's Game, he plays to the strengths of his performers, allowing the inherent terror of the situation to unfold naturally for the audience.

While King has varied the subjects of his stories over the past 40 years, one common criticism is that they're overlong. A reader might think the story has wrapped itself up, only for the novel to continue for dozens of pages, sometimes in an underwhelming way. Similarly, Gerald's Game suffers a similar fate, which is admittedly a much bigger issue with the source material than with the film itself.

For viewers unfamiliar with the original King story, you might think the film comes to a nice, satisfying ending, only to continue for another ten minutes it didn't need. There isn't anything inherently wrong with the actual ending, but these epilogue sequences deflate what was an otherwise tightly-wrought thriller.

King's stories often involve many psychologically frightening elements, reminding fans that oftentimes, the scariest things reside within humans themselves. The incorporation of these psychological elements might be effective to some, but also don't allow as much attention for Jessie to focus on her real-world problems. There are strong connections between the decisions Jessie's made up to this point and why she's specifically involved in these situations, resulting in tangents that the film wanders off to explore, forgetting more real-world threats.

Gerald's Game, as a film, is (for better or worse) a faithful adaptation of King's story. Due to that fact, the core narrative didn't allow either the real-world threats or psychological aspects to be explored fully, for a completely satisfying story.

Gerald's Game arrives on Netflix September 29.

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