Gerald’s Game


I remember reading Steven King’s novel on its release in 1992 and thinking to myself, ‘Well, here’s one of his books they’ll never be able to make into a film.’ This was the time when moviemakers were happily turning everything he was involved with into motion pictures, (even, it seemed, his shopping lists), so this was quite a claim, but everything about the story – it features pretty much a single protagonist who is chained to a bed throughout proceedings – seems to suggest it’s a cinematic non-starter. Clearly, nobody has mentioned that to writer/director Mike Flanagan; and it’s to his credit, that he makes a pretty decent fist of this Netflix Original.

Jessie Burlingame (Carla Gugino) and her husband, Gerald (Bruce Greenwood), attempt to spice up their flagging marriage by heading off to their remote summerhouse for a weekend of carnal pleasure, in which Gerald wishes to investigate the possibilities of a little bondage. Almost before you can say, ‘bad idea,’ Jessie is handcuffed to a bed and Gerald (don’t worry, this really isn’t a spoiler) has dropped dead from a massive heart attack. Awkward! Unable to get up off the mattress, Jessie has time to regret leaving the back door open (really?) and encouraging a hungry stray dog to come around and get himself something to eat… also, who is the mysterious Moonlight Man, who keeps appearing from time to time? Is he merely a hallucination? The image of Jessie’s own impending death? Or something much more prosaic?

Given the problematic storyline, Flanagan manages to walk a tricky tightrope between prurience and suspense – and his technique for ‘opening up’ the story is cleverly done. A recurring flashback to Jessie’s childhood cleverly echoes the point that she’s always been held prisoner by a man’s sordid intentions; and, if you thought Greenwood’s presence here was going to be fleeting, think again. There’s also a mercifully brief but extremely visceral sequence that will have the hardiest souls averting their gaze as it unfolds in all it’s bloody detail.

King’s books rarely get the screen adaptations they deserve – even the recent, highly acclaimed It, fell somewhat short of the mark in my opinion – but this is a palpable success and it’s right there on Netflix whenever you feel hardy enough to give it a whirl.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

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