Jessie Burlingame ends up handcuffed to a bed, keys just out of reach, not a single person for miles. Living person, at least. Her husband, the one with the bondage kink and the rape fantasy, is dead on the floor. The heart attack probably did it, but banging his forehead on the tiling didn't help. She's pretty sure he's dead, at least. There's too much blood.
This rekindling of the flame is going worse than she expected.
I'd said while writing about Before I Wake that Mike Flanagan likes his crucibles. The characters in his movies are always trapped in a situation and squirming to get out of it. Jessie is the personification of that narrative device.
On the one side of the bed, Gerald's Game is a sensational example of how to adapt a book. It tweaks details, focuses on the performers, retains the story's strengths while enhancing it with the right cinematic language.
Carla Gugino gives a protean performance as Jessie. There's little artifice she could default to, no gimmicks she can pull. She has to spend most of the movie in a single position, handcuffed in place as Jessie is. She doesn't even get a change of outfit. It's all expressions, intonation, what little body language she gets to show.
Bruce Greenwood does a great job as her husband Gerald, whose eponymous game put her in that position. He has a rakishness to him, with Greenwood looking better at sixty-two than I expect I'll ever look, but it's balanced out with a husband who still wants to care. Gerald is someone used to getting things his way, but who wants to make it work with the wife instead of going out for the hookers and mistresses he could have.
(And I'm sure does)
On the other side, there's the issue that as a faithful adaptation of Stephen King's book, it'll carry the weaknesses of the material.
For instance, what's up with her background?
We need a new term for what's going on with characters, where what used to be considered a tragic backstory is now the baseline. People have to be sadder, had to have had a worse life than you thought. A good tear-jerking story doesn't bring in as much waterworks as it used to. Their drama needs to be more dramatic.
It's so much misery inflation.
Is it not enough for a woman to be in handcuffs, ogled by a ravenous dog gone feral, dying of thirst, losing her mind and talking to both herself and her dead husband, terrified by (one would hope) hallucinatory threats?
No? Not enough?
Does she also need to have been sexually abused as a child as well?
I'd have been freaking out at the handcuffed thing myself. Maybe “being eaten alive” at most. We wouldn't need dredging up any past horrors to compound the present ones.
It's Stephen King's fault, not the movie's. There are too many echoes from his other stories, from the solar eclipse to name-dropping Cujo. He writes these things for himself now, all the stuff he's put out blending into one big gumbo pot in his head.
And then there's the inspiring, talky, tacked-on ending. King is a great tease, but when it comes to fucking, he climbs on top and writhes around for a couple of minutes before declaring he is done.
Before it gets to that duct-taped apocrypha, though, you'll get some masterful scenes. Gugino's arguments with herself are impeccable. Greenwood is the perfect bastard, released from all social constraints by death and her agonizing wife's imagination. There's a scene, as Jessie finally figures out a plan, which felt like it went on forever, me squirming on the couch, calling out “oh fuck no” several times. I exhaled when it was over. There's constant tension before and after that horrifying moment.
That's what we watch horror for, so the movie succeeds. Even if the coda feels like someone stapled it on right before release because they felt we needed to get an uplifting lesson out of the whole thing.