This is what makes adaptation so compelling, when you see artists solve creative problems to translate formats. You still get the joy of seeing scenes you pictured, but new stuff as they turn internal prose into on screen action. Gerald’s Game feels like the book I read in 1992
When Gerald’s Game came out I thought Stephen King wrote what everybody was thinking when couples play bondage games. Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) handcuffs Jessie (Carla Gugino) to the bed but dies of a heart attack. Jessie is left alone to get herself out of her misery (see what I did there?) and it also leaves her time to reflect on her childhood trauma.
There is enough suspense in the book to fill a 90 minute movie easy. King had 480 pages so he went hog wild with backstory. The film honors all of it. The biggest hurdle to adaptation was Jessie’s internal monologue. Thankfully, screenwriter Jeff Howard and director Mike Flanagan don’t rely on voiceover.
A visual manifestation of Gerald solves the internal monologue, giving her dialogue. It’s also a bit of fair play keeping him shirtless along with her in slip. You understand that everyone talking is Jessie. It just dramatizes it, and makes a lot more sense than Tom Hanks talking to a volleyball in Cast Away. The dialogue gives her ideas so the audience knows what she’s figuring out, but not all of them. We see her make the final connection herself.
Jessie trying to get the water from the ledge above is like a set piece from The Wages of Fear. Each moment like that sets up the geography of the bedroom and lays the groundwork for the increasingly desperate situation.
It’s a good balance of survival scenes and flashbacks. As a teenager reading the book I wasn’t interested in Jessie’s childhood trauma but now as an adult I see how it led her to a man like Gerald in the first place. Plus, the manipulation of children is more horrifying than a cannibal dog and Mr Moonlight.
That dog, though, his meals get bigger and bigger as the movie progresses getting more graphic. They managed to make the hand scene even worse than I imagined from King’s description.
The details of Gerald’s death are tweaked and the epilogue may be expanded but Gerald’s Game is a remarkably faithful adaptation of a book considered unfilmable.