By: Justyn Gomez
Our magnanimous deity, Netflix, has once again released a true gem of a film; the adaptation of Stephen King’s 1992 novel, Gerald’s Game. And what a wild ride it became.
The film begins with a lingering feeling of dread, as with most King adaptations, even as we follow Jessie and her husband, Gerald, through a pristine patch of wilderness. The two are on their way to a weekend getaway at their remote lake house (remote being the key word here). The serenity of the drive is disrupted by a stray dog gnawing on roadkill right before they arrive at the romantic/secluded destination. The couple makes quick work of settling in before Jess’s guilt over the stray gets the best of her. She slices up a hefty bit of KOBE BEEF (actually from Kobe, Jess.) and waits outside for the dog to show up. The heartfelt gesture is interrupted by Gerald convincing Jess to turn in for the night with him as she’s led inside WITHOUT CLOSING THE FRONT DOOR. They both begin prepping as Jess slips on the new silk dress, specifically bought for the occasion, and Gerald takes his Viagra before walking out of the bathroom with a pair of handcuffs. The game begins.
What follows, immediately, is one of the most uncomfortable experiences I’ve ever had watching, what is essentially, a rape scene. The realization that Gerald’s wildest fantasies are something that Jess never considered would cross his mind, in the 11 years they’ve been married, was horrifying. She was now in bed with a stranger. The scene culminates with Jess pleading for the cuffs to be removed as the two argue about their failed attempt to rekindle their relationship. Gerald then grabs his left arm, slumps over and dies on top of his lover from an apparent heart attack.
Jess manages to kick him off of her and onto the floor as she screams for help and begins pondering her escape. It’s not long before the stray shows up again, this time IN THE HOUSE (the front door was left open, remember?), and begins EATING GERALD’S CORPSE. The shock essentially gives Jess a psychotic break, evident by the advice-giving apparitions of Gerald and, a much more confident version of, herself whom show up to coach/antagonize her through the ordeal. They advise her that the handcuff key is on the bathroom sink, the phone on the nightstand will die soon and is too far away to reach, even with her feet, and that not a single living soul will be around to save her from the inevitability of a slow, lonely death. It’s through their ethereal insight that she learns how truly dire the situation is.
Jess conceives multiple strategies, but none have a real probability at escape. This point is further driven home by the mocking she receives from the ghostly versions of Gerald and herself. She’s able to acquire the glass of water Gerald left on the shelf above her head, engineer a straw from her new dress’s price tag and effectively keep herself alive for a few days, but unconscious for a majority of them. We begin learning of Jess’s crux, a major psychological issue bestowed upon her by her literal piece of shit father, through a fever dream. It’s revealed that he sexually abused her, as the two watched the solar eclipse, and manipulated her into shaming herself for the incident (again, literal piece of shit). When Jess is awakened, she notices a shadowy figure standing in the corner of the room, staring at her, but isn’t sure if she’s imagining it. It moves closer and reveals itself and its box of wedding rings and bones to her. “The Moonlight Man. That’s death,” the Gerald apparition tells her. “He’ll be back for you,” he promises. Jess finally works up the courage to execute a last resort plan to rid herself of the cuffs, slitting her wrist with the broken glass of water and de-gloving her right hand. The gruesome display rings in spine-tingling cringe and celebration as Jess is finally free of her prison.
Jess finally has one more shot at life with the scars to remind her of its sacredness.
The film’s strongest suit was depicting the human mind’s duality in times of crisis, and its eventual ability to ensure survival by any means necessary. It was as much about the escape as it was about the discovery of what defined Jess up to this point, and how that was ultimately arbitrary if she allowed it to be. She had lived half of her life in the shadow of the eclipse and was now finally physically, emotionally, and mentally free.
Bonus points to the sickening twist ending/revelation that elevated the film to a plateau that very few others have achieved.