“Gerald’s Game”, based upon the novel by Stephen King, is a Netflix exclusive feature film release. It tells the tale of a woman, who in hopes of saving her marriage, gives into her husband’s deepest dark sex fantasy – a kinky scenario involving her being handcuffed to the bed. At first glance, one might be quick to box this movie in with the slew of King adaptations released this year, but between “IT” and now “Gerald’s Game”, King fans are finally getting the films that they deserve. The choice of hiring co-writer and director Mike Flanagan (“Hush” and “Ouija: Origin of Evil”) proved to be a winning one. With this recent film endeavor, Flanagan has taken a novel that appeared to be virtually unfilmable and created something macabre that takes it’s audience on a psychological thrill ride.
The film opens to the beat of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me” as married couple Jessie (Carla Gugino) and Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) pack their bags for a weekend getaway alone at their family’s isolated lakeside home. On their way to the cabin they nearly crash the car into a starving stray dog. Jessie, a true caregiver at heart, finds herself wanting to help the dog and later decides that feeding him one of Gerald’s expensive Kobe beef steaks in their front yard is the best way to do so. When her husband finds his wife outside, he forgives her for wasting their precious food and decides now is the perfect time to whisk her away to the bedroom for a sexual interlude, forgetting one key thing along the way — to shut the front door.
From this moment on, “Game” remains (for the most part) in the couple’s bedroom with scenes functioning like a theatrical play. The pair starts off having what appears to be a completely consensual role-playing sexual encounter, but things quickly escalate into a violent rape fantasy in which Jessie has no interest in partaking. She starts to fight back against Gerald, insisting that he remove the handcuffs immediately. But he instead grabs his chest, stricken by a heart attack. He falls limp onto Jessie and she quickly kicks him off onto the floor. Blood pools around his head from the impact and it isn’t long before the stray dog shows up, a predator smelling fresh meat.
Now the game is truly on and Gugino delivers a brilliant performance as she fights to survive against the elements that hold her prisoner. She tries desperately to free herself from the cuffs and get the dog to leave the husband’s body alone, but it’s no use. The dog tears a chunk of meat from Gerald’s arm. Then suddenly, he awakens and realizes that a piece of his arm is missing. He turns towards to the beast, anger rising. But as her husband begins to move around the room yelling about the dog, Jessie realizes that he is only a figment of her imagination. His bloody arm is still laying on the ground.
It’s here that “Gerald’s Game” transitions from a seemingly stereotypical plant-and-payoff thriller and evolves into something more. We are no longer just playing a physical game, but one that relies heavily upon psychological survival as well. Jessie’s world has become a therapy session of sorts, teeter-tottering between reality and fantasy as she battles the hidden demons in her mind. Two of the inhabitants of this make-believe world are a version of Jessie free of the handcuffs and a living version of her husband. These spirits are seemingly the proverbial angel and devil that live on each of our shoulders. Her freed self attempts to guide her to solutions to her problem which are hidden around the room, while the husband tries to bring her down emotionally and get her to give into her own demise.
Even though we spend much of the movie trapped with Jessie in the bedroom, the story continues to keep us on our toes and thinking. There are no filler scenes here. Eyes will remain glued to the screen as audiences try to determine what exactly is real and fake in this world. A series of flashback scenes also allow give us much-needed opportunities to catch our breath before heading back into the claustrophobic room. These moments give Jessie the chance to travel back in time to her childhood, to a repressed memory that may be the answer to her predicament.
The key to “Gerald’s Game” is realizing the games that we all play within ourselves. Those voices in our heads that tell us we aren’t good enough or that we need to behave a certain way. These voices come from our past experiences and only when we confront these inner demons head-on can we truly be free. Flanagan has done a magnificent job of capturing these emotions in a way that is both visually powerful and stays true to the original work. Out of all the King adaptations released this year, “Game” is the film that will continue to haunt the viewer long after the credits have rolled.