“… a wonderful story by Stephen King that proves he can pretty much write about anything and make it interesting.”
As I write this I have just finished reading Gerald’s Game by Stephen King, and boy oh boy was it an adventure. I first decided to read this book when I heard about the existence of a Netflix film that was in the works, and as per usual I put off actually reading the book until the last possible second (currently it is September 28 at 11pm, the movie is supposed to come out on the 29th of September). I’m a fan of Stephen King and have written reviews of his novels/adaptations in the past. That being said, I’m not sure exactly how I’m going to tackle this one. All of this is irrelevant to you, however, because by the time you read this I will have figured all of this out.
When I started reading Gerald’s Game the first thing I fell in love with was the fact that the novel throws you right into the action. King loves to bathe you in world-building bullshit (I use that term as lovingly as possible), but in Gerald’s Game this is saved for a few off-hand remarks about the past. I don’t give a shit that on their way up to the cottage, Jessie and Gerald stopped for subs. That being said I know that information anyway because of a few aforementioned off-hand remarks, but I’m happy that I was saved the agony of having to live through that shit first hand. So Gerald’s Game throws you right into the action, and that is where you stay (for a while anyway). We are introduced to the premise (Jessie is handcuffed to the bed), and immediately a problem arises (Gerald dies), and just like that we are neck-deep in this story. I fucking love that no time was wasted getting us to where we needed to be, and that is ultimately what made my first pass at this book so easy to endure. I was immediately sucked into this story, and although I didn’t expressly care for Jessie at this point in time I still wanted her to get out of this situation because it was pretty brutal. Now the beginning isn’t completely devoid of any ‘backstory’, but a lot of it isn’t what you would expect. King paints a lot of sexist imageries, and really delves into the helplessness that this main character is feeling. Sure she is tied to a bed, but she’s also a woman which puts her (especially during the time that this book was written) at a disadvantage. King both acknowledges this fact and uses it to almost light a fire in the hearts of the readers. In a few pages King is able to ignite in us the same hate that many women have to feel every single day of their lives. The sexist remarks that wear on your patience, the annoying looks that are dealt, the tones of voice even; all of this stuff is illustrated so wonderfully that we get where this character is coming from. And these themes continue throughout the book as well, but I found them to be most prominent in the beginning section.
Now let’s be honest here, Gerald’s Game is a book about a woman tied to a bed; how interesting could it be? These thoughts definitely went through my head before I realized that Stephen King could make taking a shit sound like a horrific experience. I admit that the idea of being tied to a bed doesn’t sound like the most engaging thing one could write about, but it’s how King writes about the subject that makes all the difference. When Jessie reaches for anything on the shelf above her, we actually feel the strain in our wrists. When that strain becomes unbearable for our main character, I actually found myself holding my breath with anticipation, barely being able to see if she accomplishes whatever task she is currently working on. All of these moments come together and paint this lovely picture that King can make a story out of anything; and that is in no way an insult. His talent is amazing, and I am in constant awe when I read his stories. Now it’s impossible for a story that is roughly 300 pages long to consist of only a woman tied to a bed, so obviously King had to throw in some curveballs here and there. The first one we’ll talk about is the inclusion of Prince, the stray dog. The way that King narrates this dogs thoughts is pretty fucking cool. The thoughts are so simplistic (as you would assume them to be), but at the same time so well thought-out that you are pulled into this characters mind. You hate this dog for the unspeakable things that it is doing, but you also understand why it has to do these things. King manages to make you conflicted with thoughts of fear of what the dog could do, but also understanding for what it has to do.
But moving past the dog, the second “curveball” that King throws at us is a look at Jessie’s past. This past is hinted at throughout the beginning of the book, but is fully expanded upon around the middle. Now it is perfectly reasonable to give a character a dark past, because it allows us to sympathize and relate to that character; this is no different in Gerald’s Game. King uses the past of Jessie almost like a tool, breaking away at our psyche bit by bit until we can’t bear it any more. And the best part is it’s like a car crash, we don’t want to look but we need to know. This leads me into a point hat I’m not sure many would argue with: In my opinion it isn’t a Stephen King story without some creepy sex stuff. In that regard, Gerald’s Game is most definitely a Stephen King story. The past of Jessie is one that is so grotesque and disgusting that I struggled even getting through it. Instantly I sympathized with this character on a deeper level, and even though her past had nothing to do with her current predicament it added to my involvement with the story (can’t this girl get a break?). The third curveball is by far the weirdest, and that is the inclusion of Death. Now I’m saying ‘Death’ because in my opinion, the true identity of this character is fucking idiotic. So just humour me for a minute as I talk about how the inclusion of Death was weird, but also perfectly in-line with what I would expect from King. Much like a person dragging themselves through the Sahara on their stomach in search of water, it’s not that weird to think that Jessie would see some shit while tied to this bed. It was only a day, but fear and grief and whatever else can do some shit to the human mind. I found this idea to be crazy at first, but the more it sat with me the more I loved it. Jessie arguing with herself to figure out if what she saw was a dream or not, the subtle hints she saw strewn across the floor, the urgency to get out of her current situation (as if there wasn’t enough already); all of this culminated into a wonderful “secondary antagonist” (the primary being chained to the bed in the first place) to this story.
Before I go any further, how could I forget to mention Jessie’s mind-companions? It’s hard to write a story with only one character because who talks to themselves? I mean really talks to themselves; like a full-on dialogue situation. Crazy people, that’s who. And people don’t really like reading about crazy people. So how do you adapt this scenario? You have the character talk to themselves in their head. Everyone does that, no matter how much you deny it. The inclusion of this ‘inside voice’ was smart, but the inclusion of different ‘inside voices’ was brilliant. Having different parts of Jessie’s consciousness take shape as different voices from her past was a brilliant way to give life to those inner-thoughts. They provided a wonderful dialogue throughout the story that was also kind of empowering. We got to see certain voices take control of certain situations, but then ultimately we got to see Jessie take control of all of the voices. This added to the wonderful redemption arc that the story followed with Jessie booth physically and mentally breaking free from her shackles.
Now that’s the next thing I want to talk about; the sequence in which Jessie finally gets out of her handcuffs is one of, if not the, most grotesque things I have ever read. I have a thing with injuries (mainly compound fractures or stuff like that) where if I’m watching a movie with anything like that in it I will physically cringe; Gerald’s Game, despite being a book, got that exact same reaction out of me. Knelt forward, groaning as if I had been punched in the stomach, hopping up and down in my chair, I had to force myself to brave on. This section of the book is what I will remember for years to come, and that’s a good thing (especially when we get to the next part of the review).
Now those flashback sections that I spoke of earlier really were great, for the most part. I found that toward the middle of the book they got a little annoying. I can only stomach so much molestation before I want to get back to the issue at hand (or rather, at hands. Get it? Because handcuffs? I’ll be here all week folks!). Now these sections of the book proved trying at times, but never to the extent of the ending. The ending of Gerald’s Game, which I will so lovingly call the gratui-logue considering I don’t think it was necessary, might be one of the worst things I have read. Now I’m not a super well-read individual so that’s not saying much, but it’s about as bad of an insult as I can muster at a time when I really should be in bed. The book ends. Jessie gets away. And still there are like 50 pages of nothing, That’s not fair, they aren’t of nothing, there are 50 pages of self-indulgent schlock coming from the keyboard of your main character. She feels the need to write her friend Ruth, which is sweet, and she also feels the need to tell her everything that has happened to her, which is also kind of sweet, but the problem is I’m not Ruth. I don’t give a shit about you. You got out of the handcuffs, that’s all I cared about. I don’t give a shit that you met a dude that used to work with your husband, I don’t give a shit that you had to endure extensive surgeries to fix your hand, I just don’t care. It may be a little callous of me to say, but Jessie’s purpose was served when she got out of the handcuffs. Maybe a quick 3 page “Hey, I’m doing fine” writeup would have sufficed, but even that probably would have been overkill. This portion of the book is so dull, and such a chore to get through. But that isn’t even the worst part about it.
During her time attached to the bed in her summer home, Jessie was visited by Death. This character stared at her, showed her some neat trinkets, and then told her that he would be back for her the next night. This lit the proverbial fire under Jessie’s ass to get the Hell out of Dodge, and provided the much-needed supernatural element to this Stephen King tale. Or did it? If you stopped reading when Jessie crashed into a tree then it sure did. If you made the mistake of reading on, as I did, then that was ruined by the man, the myth, the legend himself. It turns out this wasn’t Death. As a matter of fact, this wasn’t even a ghost. This was just a dude. Some Boo Radley motherfucker who wears necklaces made of dead dudes’ dicks was apparently just out and about when he decided to go into a house and stare at a woman who was chained to the bed. Why did he do this? I don’t know. Why did he only do this (stare at her)? I don’t know. What part of him was real, and what wasn’t? I don’t know. This realization really just muddies the entire story, doesn’t it. So anyway Jessie’s new boy-toy finds out some shit about this dude, and they eventually make their way to a courthouse where he is being arraigned for his crimes. Now the way that King wrote this scene makes it seem like this dick-cutting piece of shit (can you tell that I only really grasped one part of the story) is the cause of all of Jessie’s problems. She stares and stares, and granted he does mock her, but she then spits in his face. That’s not so bad, but what makes me question the whole thing is why she wanted to go to the courthouse in the first place? I mean, what did this guy do? Let’s break it down. First of all, let’s talk about what he definitely did. He broke into a house (debatable, since the door was open), stood in a corner, stared at a woman, then opened a box full of bones and gems and moved them around a bit. That doesn’t seem like the kind of thing I would hunt someone down for doing to me. I would be happy that they were arrested, but I would go and spit at them or anything. Even breaking this down further into the stuff he might have done doesn’t sell it. He may or may not have told her that he would be back the next night, spilling the contents of his weird fetish-case on her floor. He may or may not have gone back to the house, only to approach her in the dark and have two wedding rings thrown at him. He may or may not have been in the back seat of her car whispering the names of all of her ‘head friends’. Do you know what is worse that literally all of that? Handcuffing someone to a bed, then dying. And before you die, you try to rape that person. That’s a whole lot worse in my eyes than the rest of that shit. And I admit, though it was funny, him mocking her in the courtroom was in bad taste. And I admit, him going to grave sites and taking jewelry and noses and dicks and filling the heads of corpses with shit isn’t cool. But I feel like King kind of forgot who the real villain of this story was. I’ll give you a hint, his name is in the title.
Moving on to the 2017 adaptation of Gerald’s Game, I’m going to kind of dissect this portion into two (loose) parts. I’m first going to discuss how the movie holds up as an adaptation, and then I’m going to talk about how the movie holds up by itself. So let’s begin.
Gerald’s Game is directed by Mike Flanagan who is known for such films as Oculus and Hush, so it’s safe to say that he’s no stranger to the horror game. The film is surprisingly one of the most faithful adaptations I have ever seen. Watching through this film was like reading the book, because the same things were happening beat for beat. This is definitely a pro, because when adapting a book that everyone likes, why would you change the writing? The beginning of the film started to scare me because so many things were different, but I think this is a different side of the same coin that I addressed above. Stories usually introduce you to things in a way that is relatable. I liked the book because it threw you into the action, but apparently that didn’t fly with someone so they decided to do all of the weird “set-up” stuff beforehand. Now for those who have read the book I’m sure (much like me) you’ll be rolling your eyes through this section of the film, but don’t worry; it doesn’t last long. One big thing that was changed during this portion was the inclusion of full-blown hallucinations instead of just “inside friends” like in the book. I wasn’t a fan of this decision at all because i thought it was a little far-fetched. Jessie had been handcuffed to the bed for about an hour or so, and then she completely went insane. This made the character seem mentally weak to me. Luckily, like all of the other changes, this settles in with me and ultimately I grew to love it. The hallucinations allowed for the film to be shot in a way that was actually entertaining. Having someone listen to voices inside of their head isn’t interesting, but having someone hallucinate a few characters going through these giant monologues almost as if they are sitting in the middle of a stage is great. I was also fine with getting rid of a lot of the ‘obscure voices’ (like Ruth and Goody), in favour of ones the audience was already familiar with. This was just a smart move to save having to introduce new shit.
Like I said a lot of the story was kept almost identical, and it worked wonderfully. There were a few parts that were omitted, but all of the main points were there. One thing that was (surprisingly, in my opinion) kept were the flashbacks to Jessie’s childhood. I wasn’t sure if these would be included simply because of how they’d incorporate them, but I’m pretty glad they were. They showed us this important part of Jessie’s past, and they were really well done. The only con in my opinion would be the actress who played young Jessie, but that was simply because I found her performance to be different than how the character acted in the book, which shifted a lot of the scenes. Apart from that I really liked how the introduction of Death was handled, because it was fucking terrifying. Seriously, the pan over into the dark corner to see that creepy motherfucker standing there was one of the best horror scenes I have ever seen in a movie. Unfortunately they removed a lot of the mystery surrounding the Death character pretty fast, and with the makeup/effects he just kind of looked like a weird statue that you’d buy at a halloween store. On thing I didn’t like was that the film kept the rather self-indulgent ending of the story intact. I will admit it was easier to sit through about ten minutes of a film than it was to read a pretty sizeable part of a book, but its inclusion still bothered me. I will say that I’m glad this part of the story stayed in because we got what was easily my favourite scene in the book: Jessie being mocked by the creepy motherfucker in the courtroom. This part fully cemented the absurdity that is the ending of this story, and it was portrayed just as ridiculously in the movie.
As far as Gerald’s Game holds up as a movie: the praise is almost the same. Gerald’s Game could also be titled “Oh shit! It’s that guy/girl from that thing!”, and it would be just as accurate. Luckily both of these actors (who you know you’ve seen before, but you just can’t place it), Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood for those wondering, do mazing jobs in their respective roles. Carla Gugino played Jessie very close to how she was written in the book, and she also did a great job playing the “Ruth” voice character. Bruce Greenwood was great as the creepy, sex-obsessed Gerald, but he really starts to shine when he shows up as a vision to Jessie. During his performance he gets to deliver one of the better monologues in the story (Death is coming back), and he fucking nails it. As far as other actors go, I felt that Henry Thomas did a great job as Jessie’s creepy father, and I already expressed my dislike of Chiara Aurelia as young Jessie but I want to once again state that it wasn’t her performance that I didn’t like, I just felt that she played the character differently than how it read and I wasn’t a fan of that.
As far as the rest of the film goes, I felt that it did a great job of keeping tensions high throughout the story. It did this by doing a very great job of turning King’s very descriptive scenarios into visuals. It managed to keep the feel of King’s writing in every action, and that’s really the mark of a great adaptation. I also thought the effects were fucking stellar, which isn’t the most common thing around nowadays. Everything from the dog ripping Gerald apart to that scene was done so well that it actually made me squirm. I will say that the structure of the story seemed a little inconsistent, especially with the flashbacks. I found this in the story as well, but in the movie its a bit more prominent because you are actually taken out of a scene and thrown into an entirely different one. This wasn’t terrible, but it was noticeable and it did slow down the pacing a little bit around the middle of the film. I also found that some of the metaphors (especially toward the end of the film) felt a little hamfisted, and they were shoved in your face instead of alluded to. And let’s be real here, Stephen King isn’t the most subtle of writers so if I’m complaining bout lack of subtlety in the adaptation you should understand that it means something.
Overall I think Gerald’s game is a wonderful story by Stephen King that proves he can pretty much write about anything and make it interesting. I also found the film to be a wonderful adaptation of the book, only changing a few things most of which I could understand for either time or presentation. And finally this adaption is pretty good by itself. Sure there are a few issues if you aren’t familiar with the book, but overall it was pretty solid and I’ll definitely check it out again sometime.
So let’s break this down:
I give Gerald’s Game by Stephen King a B
I give Gerald’s Game the movie, as an adaptation, an A
I give Gerald’s Game the movie a B
So overall I guess I give all of Gerald’s Game a B