By Olivia Armstrong (@starcadet96)
2017 seems to have been the ultimate year for Stephen King adaptations: even taking the hugely successful adaptation of IT out of the picture, this year there have been both two other films and two tv series based on his works. Of the TV series, we have the The Mist and 1922 (releasing in October), both on Netflix. On the film side, we have Dark Tower (which sadly not even the charm of Idris Elba could save) and Gerald’s Game, another Netflix adaption by Mike Flanagan (who has received acclaim in the horror scene with his work on films such as Hush and Oujia: Origin of Evil).
Out of all the Stephen King stories to adapt, this one has to be one of the most difficult to execute. First off, it doesn’t contain most of King’s associated tropes; there are no supernatural elements and even though there is a mystery concerning a hidden character, it is not revealed until the very end. The terror of Gerald’s Game comes solely from the premise – when husband and wife, Jessie (Clara Gugino) and Gerald (Bruce Greenwood), drive to a remote retreat to rekindle their marriage, an attempt to eroticise their sex life goes awry when Jessie is handcuffed with both hands to the bedpost and the two descend into argument over their broken marriage.
However, when Gerald suddenly dies leaving Jessie still handcuffed to the bed with no means of escape, the terror of Jessie predicament becomes heartbreakingly clear. As she begins to dehydrate, her wrists begin to weaken while screaming for help as her husband is slowly being eaten by a stray dog with its eyes set on her, her mind forcing her to face her own demons lurking in her past that led her to where she is now.
The difficultly of this adaptation should be clear; the majority of the story takes place on one room and one location, with little variation save for the ending and flashbacks to Jessie’s childhood. The emphasis on the feeling of being trapped in one place while losing your mind with your body growing weaker is conveyed though the performance Clara Gugino. It cannot be emphasised enough how much of this film lies on her shoulders. She is essentially giving a one-woman show of acting and the range she goes through in less than two hours is incredible. Bruce Greenwood is also solid as the titular Gerald; speaking through Jessie’s subconscious to appear as if he were in front of her.
While the premise may sound rather far-fetched at first-glance, the cringing realism of the situation Jessie is in is beyond terrifying. The handcuff keys and Gerald’s phone are too far away to reach. The handcuffs are too tight to slip out. Her mind is playing tricks on her as she watches her husband being eaten alive, then forced to recount repressed childhood memories that she locked away years ago. It’s less of a traditional horror and more of an intense character study, which is one of my favourite forms of horror. Mike Flanagan once again proves himself a true talent; the writing and simple yet claustrophobic setting forces us to experience exactly what Jessie is experiencing while also allowing us to see her at her most vulnerable and self-loathing, creating a character almost impossible to not empathise with.
If I had to compare it to any other King adaption, it would be Misery. Both stories have a similar premise of a character being trapped and forced to survive through method of escape. As well as that, they both feature scenes that are absolutely cringe-inducing due to the realism of the pain. In Misery’s case it was the infamous hobbling scene, in which Annie Wilkes brutally breaks both of the main characters ankles with a sledgehammer. In Gerald’s Game, it’s the method in which Jessie eventually tries to escape. I’m not squeamish in the slightest and generally have no problem with violent or gory imagery and yet I found myself peeking through my fingers and trying not to look. The scene is so visceral, it’s borderline nauseating while still technically featuring less violence than many recent horror films.
Horror is subjective, that cannot be overstated. Fear is one of the most diverse emotions we all can experience; fear of monsters, ghosts, home invasions, sounds creaking in the dark. But Gerald’s Game takes us back to one of the most primal and realistic fears we can imagine; being trapped with no way out and being forced to confront your own self in order to escape. It ranks up with IT (2017) as one of the best Stephen King adaptations to date and possibly ever. The fear and catharsis is palpable in every scene and an acting masterclass from Clara Gugino elevates it into truly something special.