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Arts in Review

Gerald’s Game ain’t that much fun

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Hot on the heels of IT’s theatrical release this summer, the direct-to-Netflix Gerald’s Game marks the second time in just as many months Stephen King’s name has popped up on the credits of a new release. So far, 2017 has seen the release of various King adaptations on the streaming platform. In what appears to be a safe bet on Netflix’s part which started with The Mist, another Netflix Original,  Gerald’s Game capitalizes on the buzz created by September’s IT.

I’m not even all that mad that King’s works are getting more adaptations — he’s written some good stories which I think would do well on television or as a movie. (This kind of thing tends to happen when you pump out cookie-cutter novels like a one-man child factory.) What’s surprising is that they would choose Gerald’s Game, a novel that many film studios have rightly stayed away from since its original publication in 1992, due to its frankly polarizing depiction of bedroom games gone wrong.

Right out of the gates, Gerald’s Game proceeds like a run-of-the-mill horror flick. A couple whose marriage has hit a stretch of blandness go up to their cabin in an attempt to rekindle old passions with the help of a nice steak dinner and, later in the bedroom, some handcuffs.

The handcuffs are Gerald’s idea. Gerald’s kind of kinky.

That’s fine. You’ll find no judgement here, Gerald. Whatever floats your boat, man.

Except that we later find out that what floats Gerald’s boat doesn’t at all float Jessie’s (his wife), and she goes from hesitant participant in a last-ditch effort to save a marriage through sexual exploration, to would-be victim of marital rape in a matter of seconds.

Long story short: Jessie fights Gerald off and, in a shot that’s so painfully symbolic it manages never to move past just symbolism, she kicks him a good one. Gerald convulses and dies as a result of the Viagra he took, and any number of pre-existing conditions. (It’s best not to ask too much of this plot, really.)

By any rate, what started out with the possibility of opening up dialogues about non-normative sex play between consenting adults and its role in society turns out to focus most of its runtime on a terrified woman handcuffed to a bed in an isolated cabin trying to stave off a hungry dog who, for the moment, is content to chomp away at Gerald, and — seemingly out of nowhere — the nightmarish appearance of a pale man who might be some sort of ghost? Or a hallucination? At the very least, we think, he must be a poorly-executed metaphor.

His existence is never really explained, other than an assertion through voice-over which reassures us he’s a ghost/metaphor. Later, we find that out he’s real, and a serial killer (but also the personification of death), and for some reason we should be… scared? (Or maybe we ought to feel a sense of justice when he’s finally caught?)

For a movie that takes place in essentially one room, good God is Gerald’s Game beset by sloppy storytelling.

If you’re going to pick a Stephen King book to read, pick Carrie, Cujo, The Stand, or The Colorado Kid. If you want to watch a movie it’s The Shining, IT, or Stand by Me.

Whatever you do, though, whether it’s on the page or the screen, don’t play Gerald’s Game.

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