Can spicing things up in the bedroom lead to your untimely demise? A little bedroom kinkiness gives one married couple the most hellish weekend imaginable in “Gerald’s Game,” the latest Stephen King adaptation. For as fun as many moments in the thriller is, the film comes off as a minor adaptation of a minor work. There are some legitimately upsetting moments throughout “Gerald’s Game.” Yet, it’s not long before the nifty tricks give way to over the top revelations.
Jessie (Carla Gugino) and Gerald Burlingame (Bruce Greenwood) are looking to spice up their love life. The couple journeys deep into the country to the family lake house. While there, they toy around with handcuffs, leading to Jessie handcuffed to the bedposts. However, things go awry as Gerald suffers a heart attack. This leaves Jessie still handcuffed to the bed, unable to get away and find help. In the middle of nowhere, no one can hear Jessie’s cries for help. As the day and night wear on, Jessie begins to hallucinate and confront some of her darkest secrets from her childhood.
It’s tough to handle a film that appears to be a two-hander, with one of the characters collapsed and dead on the floor. The movie gets around this with varying degrees of success. Jessie’s hallucinations bring an added layer of fear, as we enter the mind of our central protagonist. Her visions of both herself and Gerald taunt, berate, encourage and drudge up painful memories. The film expertly snaps back and forth between these hallucinations and the reality of the situation, which often involves a potentially dangerous dog making dinner out of Gerald’s corpse.
Much of the film works due to the strong work of Carla Gugino at the center. She carries the film with her intense and expressive gaze. Gugino is often tasked to play double duty in the film. Much of the tension comes from Jessie’s vision of herself. This vision berates and instructs Jessie in equal measure on how to escape. As the plot turns to examine more of Jessie’s past, Gugino conveys takes Jessie’s horror and denial to new levels. The film lives or dies based on the actress in this lead part, and Gugino delivers. Her character brings up complex and complicated topics relating to a rape fantasy, femininity and what it means to be in a stable relationship.
For all that works in “Gerald’s Game,” the film suffers from the same problem other Stephen King properties face. The ending is a whole lot of hogwash. Those who end the movie five minutes before the final scene may have a more rich viewing experience. However, this ending underscores one of the elements in the film that feels most out of place. The introduction of a possible serial killer who obsesses with doing strange things to dead bodies adds an unnecessary piece to the wonderfully simple puzzle of the film. It takes the film from an entertaining thriller revolving around a heightened, yet plausible scenario to a low-rent 80s horror film. King and the film’s writers should have trusted the premise to be enough.
There’s something refreshingly simple about the best moments of “Gerald’s Game.” The film recalls mid-level thrillers that take an ordinary situation and put a dark turn on it. However, the longer the film goes on, the more it feels compelled to throw in unnecessary plot details and surprises. Netflix’s latest makes for a fun afternoon watch for the King aficionado. Yet, by the end, one feels the film evaporating from their mind.