Friday, September 29, 2017

Gerald's Game

Mike Flanagan, whose thrillers include the ambitious but mediocre OCULUS and the suspenseful HUSH, directed this straight-to-Netflix adaptation of Stephen King’s novel GERALD’S GAME. Exceedingly well cast with Carla Gugino (WATCHMEN) and Bruce Greenwood (THIRTEEN DAYS) atop the bill, Flanagan’s film manages to maintain suspense most of the way, despite the inherent “unfilmability” of King’s story.

An attractive, well-to-do married couple go to their isolated country home for a romantic weekend. The marriage hasn’t been going great, and maybe they can rekindle something. After an expensive dinner, he pops a blue pill, she pops on a brand-new nightie, and they experiment with a sex game involving handcuffs and a rape fantasy. It doesn’t go well. He has a fatal heart attack, and she is left alone, handcuffed to the bed, no phone within reach.

A tour-de-force for Gugino in a role that demands a terrific actress to pull off, GERALD’S GAME is a sharp study of upper-class madness and guilt. Left alone, vulnerable, awaiting a slow death, Gugino’s character, Jessie, confronts her own troubled history via hallucinations in which she speaks not only to her husband Gerald (Greenwood), but also her own unbound double.

Greenwood is up to the task of keeping up with Gugino, and the housebound drama finds room for E.T.’s Henry Thomas and HUSH’s Kate Siegel as Gugino’s parents in flashbacks, as well as Carel Struycken — Lurch in the 1990s ADDAMS FAMILY movies — as...ah, but that would be telling. Flanagan favors long takes and a natural soundscape to heighten the verisimilitude of the scenes, though the score by the Newton Brothers is effective when heard.

Unfortunately, Flanagan and his co-writer Jeff Howard (OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL) can’t sustain the high quality for the full 103 minutes. By remaining faithful to King’s novel, the filmmakers retain the author’s ending, which is at odds with the sophisticated psychological drama leading up to it. It’s unfortunate that Flanagan, who began thinking about making GERALD’S GAME since reading the book as a teenager, was too blind to recognize King’s anti-climax. A serious misstep, for sure, and not helped by the unconvincing makeup effects, but the previous 90 minutes are so strong that the drama earns a place in the upper echelon of films adapted from King properties.

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