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Gerald’s Game

Year: 2017
Production Co: Intrepid Pictures
Studio: Netfix
Director: Mike Flanagan
Writer: Mike Flanagan/Jeff Howard/Stephen King
Cast: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Carel Struycken, Chiara Aurelia, Henry Thomas

Most cine-literate readers of Gerald's Game would tell you it's unfilmable. The action takes place entirely in one room centered on a single woman chained to a bed. Everything that happens is her inner monologue, even the asides that tell us about her past and how it pertains to her current predicament.

When it first happens, the conceit of having phantom representations of Jesse (Carla Gugino) herself and her husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) appear in the room to talk to her seems silly, but you soon realise what an effective device it is on the part of co-writers Jeff Howard and Mike Flanagan, who also directs.

One of the strongest aspects of the novel was that memories Jesse doesn't want to think about contained the secret to getting out of her situation alive, and as her own and Gerald's imaginary versions walk around the room seeming to taunt her, they're actually glimmers of the real Jesse projected outward, trying to make sense of clues that will help. Look no further than the moment she realises there's a glass of water within reach.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. If you haven't read the novel, Jesse and Gerald arrive at their remote cabin near the lake on a weekend trip hoping to spice up their marriage a bit. As we see over the opening credits, she packs a negligee while he packs handcuffs.

There doesn't seem to be any trauma or bitterness to their relationship, they're both just middle aged and high powered, he works too much, she's wondering if she's still desirable, all that stuff. It's also plain she's none too sure about the bondage themes Gerald's into but wants to please him.

You also know the hungry stray dog they pass on the road will play a much bigger part in the story later but they nevertheless arrive, Gerald pops a pill and chains Jesse up and they try to get things moving.

Things are fragile and fruaght, and while they're arguing about just how serious these bondage games are, Gerald keels over dead of a heart attack... with Jesse still handcuffed to the bed.

She's miles from anywhere with no neighbours in earshot, in a house with the door wide open and with her dead husband's body lying on the floor at the foot of the bed. The stray dog from before that appears in the doorway is the least of Jesse's problems.

But when Gerald climbs back to his feet, groaning and taunting her about the position she's in, it seems like her mind has cracked – especially when she can see the corner of his body still on the floor past the edge of the bed. When Jesse herself saunters in, beautifully made up and full of confidence as she bickers with her equally imaginary husband, the real Jesse's mind is apparently broken altogether.

But in the same way they give her the clue about the glass of water on the shelf above her that she's forgotten about, Jesse and Gerald want the real Jesse to cast her mind back to a specific episode from her childhood when she watched a total eclipse (the same one that appeared in Dolores Claiborne, for Stephen King trivia hounds) from the shores of the lake with her beloved Dad Henry Thomas – yes, the kid from ET: The Extra-Terrestrial.

The memory of what happened to the young Jesse (Chiara Aurelia) that day at her father's hands is traumatic and grown up and Jesse wants nothing more than to forget it, but it contains a tiny detail that just might save her if she's willing to relive it.

The script very cleverly casts her phantom self and the phantom Gerald the way Jesse regards them in real life. Her own doppleganger is one of encouragement and tough love, wanting her to rise up and face what she knows. The imaginary Gerald is more argumentative, cajoling and seeming to blame her for the failure of their marriage and seeming more antagonistic in his prompting her to help herself.

The whole subplot about the ghostly man with the case full of grotesque souvenirs who might have been a figment of Jesse's imagination always seemed kind of secondary in the book and you might wonder if they bother including it here, but Howard and Flanagan do so in the shape of the incredible looking Carel Struycken, who you're not a bit surprised to remember played Lurch in the two The Addams Family movies.

Among everything else to love about it is watching Bruce Greenwood really sink his teeth into the role of Gerald. He's carved out a very specific niche playing upstanding alpha males in prestige projects like the boss of a TV network in Truth and the US defense secterary in The Post. But where those roles are mostly about him standing still and being authoritative while he delivers exposition to major characters, Gerald's Game is an actor's piece. Greenwood really stretches his wings, swinging between loving and slightly slimy and often acting direct to the camera.

You'd never imagine a single location, single character story could be so engaging on a screen. If you're in the mood for a good Stephen King adaptation, give The Dark Tower a very wide berth and fire this one up instead.

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