Stephen King's work has a number of markers and themes that reoccur again and again, often with varying results and effectiveness. The best adapters of his work catch upon these and either elevate them through visual context, or dig deeper into the psychology behind it.
With Misery, for example, Stephen King's drug addiction was manifested on the page by Annie Wilkes' raving, psychotic flourishes. On screen, Kathy Bates turned her into Nurse Ratched on speed and made it all the more real. The box office-breaking It captured the idea of those we believe to protect us as being the real monsters, a common thread in a lot of King's work and one that Gerald's Game picks up on as well. The difference between It and Gerald's Game is that this film does it far more effectively and with far less splashy thrills to work with.
Based on a lesser-known King novel, the story starts off with Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood arriving in a remote log cabin, attempting to spice up their marriage with a romantic getaway in a remote house near a lake. The film brings us almost straight into the action, with Greenwood clapping handcuffs on Gugino and attempting to live out his rape fantasy with her. She demurs, he protests and - because of the viagra he'd just taken - suffers a heart-attack and slumps off the bed. She, however, is still handcuffed to the bed and unable to move.
Working with such a simple and clean-cut premise allows the film a wide canvas to work with, and to say it gets dark is an understatement. Because Gugino's character is alone and panicked, her mind begins to wander and soon her deepest secrets begin to appear before her - in the shape of her own self and her dead husband, as well as flashbacks to her teenage self. While you might think it seems a little hokey, the film handles these quite gracefully and keeps it tightly in the chamber drama format. In fact, were it not for the flashbacks, Gerald's Game could be easily turned into a stage play.
Gugino gives one of her best on-screen performances to date, and displays the trauma and sheer panic so naturally and convincingly - and the dynamic between her and Bruce Greenwood has a lived-in, authentic feel to it. Likewise, Greenwood gives some of his best work in years and makes for a chilling, queasily recognisable character. Everyone's probably met or talked to someone like Greenwood's character once in their lives, and how the film deals with the psychology between them is fascinating. Do we really know anyone? Are there parts of ourselves that we're afraid to show even the most intimate people in our lives? Because of the stripped-back setting and premise, these can be explored fully and makes for some disturbing, dramatic moments.
Essentially, it's a two-hander between Gugino and Greenwood, save for the flashbacks which add some context to the proceedings and an epilogue that feels needlessly tacked on. Mike Flanagan's previous work, Hush and Ouija: Origin of Evil, both worked with relatively smaller budgets and fewer resources as he had crafted something intriguing and ingenious out of them. It's the same here; taking something that you would think isn't going to work, but instead becomes much more effective than you might realise.
Aside from a few moments where it becomes a little hammy and ridiculous - a particular side-plot that could have been easily cut out of it with little or no impact - Gerald's Game is another strong Stephen King adaptation that's worth your time.