I vividly remember reading “Gerald’s Game” the first time, because it’s maybe the only book that’s ever made me physically jump while reading it. On first consideration, Stephen King’s story of psychological survival horror, notably lacking in overtly supernatural elements, would seem unfilmable yet writer/ director Mike Flanagan (“Oculus”) has nevertheless fashioned the twisted tale of child abuse, sexual power plays and desperate survival into a taut and chilling thriller.
Seeking to reinvigorate their troubled marriage, Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) and Jessie (Carla Gugino) travel to their remote lakehouse for a romantic and adventurous weekend. But when Gerald’s fantasy gets out of hand and he dies suddenly of a heart attack, Jessie finds herself trapped, handcuffed to the bed and unable to escape.
Flanagan and his co-writer Jeff Howard do a terrific job of bringing the novel’s mostly internal narrative to vivid, cinematic life. Greenwood and Gugino both pull double duty as figments of Jessie’s mind both helping and hounding her through the ordeal. As hallucinations, dreams and fleeting moments of lucidity start to bleed into each other, it forces her to revisit the darkest chapters of the past as well as the struggle to stay alive in the present.
The film really capitalises on the inherent creepiness of isolation and immobilisation, the growing dread as the seemingly simple needs of survival like a drink of water suddenly become near insurmountable problems. There’s a satisfying neatness to the seemingly inconsequential actions of the characters in the opening minutes of the movie which come into play later as Jessie’s internal avatars nudge and prod her memories. Best of all, the moment which made me jump while reading the book, was every bit as creepy as I wanted it to be in the movie.
It’s a brilliantly crafted, suspenseful movie driven by superb performances by Gugino and Greenwood. Its horror is all the stronger for being fully grounded in reality and despite its deceptively limited scope, definitely not one for the squeamish.