“Gerald’s Game”

What a year for Stephen King, huh? He’s rolling in royalties from It and The Dark Tower (maybe not so much the latter. Now his controversial novel Gerald’s Game has been adapted for Netflix.

The estranged Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) and Jessie Burlingame (Carla Gugino) take a vacation to spice up their love life. Things take a horrific turn when Gerald suffers a heart attack and leaves Jessie handcuffed to her bed. There’s no neighbors, housekeepers, or travelers nearby. When Jessie has some surreal hallucinations and a starving dog makes its way inside, how will Jessie escape? Can she even?

Writer/director Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Hush) once again delivers a nail-biting genre film that utilizes editing to its full potential. Gerald’s Game isn’t a film you can look away from (and you’ll want to at one particular point), but you must watch; like Oculus, Flanagan splices the film in a way that tricks its viewers.

I want to be abundantly clear that Gerald’s Game is NOT a horror film. Yes, there’s a survival situation, creepy visions, and some grisly moments, but it’s a film about toxic relationships, trauma, and catharsis.

Jessie spends most of her time shackled to the bed recounting her marriage to Gerald. We learn that Gerald was misogynistic, unfaithful, manipulative, and condescending towards Jessie. Jessie also finds catharsis in the situation as she uses this and flashbacks of her traumatic childhood to motivate her.

The underrated Carla Gugino delivers a demanding-yet-graceful performance as Jessie. We don’t just watch her panic, but we also see her interact with an imagined dominant version of herself. These sequences add the right dose of humor. Hopefully, the Academy isn’t too snobby over horror or Netflix and consider Gugino for Best Actress.

Bruce Greenwood (also underrated) is convincing as Gerald. He’s a despicable human in the opening act, but as Jessie imagines their confrontations throughout the film, he becomes more complex.

The final act is a slight copout; It’s a pet peeve of mine when films end in a exposition-fueled narrative explaining what happened in the aftermath. Gerald’s Game disappointingly does this via written letter. Given Flanagan’s unconventional narrative techniques, I would have expected something less straightforward.

Still, Gerald’s Game is a terrific thriller and a great kickoff for the Halloween season.

Grade: A-

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“It”

Bill Skarsgård has reshaped Pennywise the Clown’s image in It. Tim Curry’s performance is now a thing of the past. If you watch It, you’ll float, too!

Set in a small town in Maine (like all of King’s stories), It focuses on a group of kids called the Losers Club. There’s the guilt-ridden stutterer Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), overweight Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), sole female member Bev (Sophia Lillis), wisecracking Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Jewish Stan (Wyatt Oleff), homeschooled outcast Mike (Chosen Jacobs), and hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer).

They just want to enjoy their summer vacation, but a mysterious clown named Pennywise (Skarsgård) stalks them. They realize Pennywise has been around for years and linked to several children’s disappearances, including Bill’s brother. Can the Losers stop Pennywise and save themselves?

I posted my top five best Stephen King adaptations last month; I need to revise that countdown and include Andy Muschietti’s It on there. Muschietti’s adaptation isn’t just an improvement over the miniseries, but an improvement over the book, as well.

It scraps the novel’s more perverse moments (no child orgy or dog killing here), allowing more focus on the coming-of-age themes. As a result, we get more funny and heartfelt moments from the Losers than expected. Each kid does a terrific job and their chemistry feels natural.

This adaptation also excludes the novel’s second half about the adult Losers, focusing solely on them as kids. I couldn’t be happier with this choice since the kids’ segment is more emotionally satisfying.

Don’t be fooled by my description of It; this is still a no-holds-barred horror film with some terrifying and admirably bold sequences. People will be talking about Pennywise’s introduction scene, but that’s not even the scariest scene. In fact, it’s hard to choose. Skarsgård disappears into Pennywise; there’s nothing funny about his laugh or stare. The makeup work and production design attribute to his menace.

The scariest moments aren’t with Pennywise, but the kids’ hallucinations. Pennywise uses each kid’s phobias to his advantage, causing them to see some gruesome and frightening figures including a demonic woman and a deteriorating man. The effects can appear amateur at times, but on a retro 80’s horror level.

I know my readers are skeptical to watch It and I don’t blame them. If you can handle horror movies and want a rare one with heart and humor, see It this weekend.

Grade: A

Top 5 Worst Stephen King Adaptations

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Welcome back! So, It comes out tonight and leading up to my review, I thought I’d share my top 5 worst Stephen King adaptations. Here we go!

5) Secret Window (2004) – “The most important part is the ending… And this one is perfect.” Not the case in David Koepp’s self-indulgent and predictable thriller. Johnny Depp was good at least.

4) Pet Sematary Two (1992) – Pet Sematary Two isn’t an official adaptation, but it’s an unnecessary sequel. It seems the screenwriter amped up the animal and child deaths while missing the point of its much scarier predecessor.

3) Thinner (1996) – While King is a great writer with some terrific books under his belt, Thinner is one that didn’t need to be adapted. The book centers on a morbidly obese crooked lawyer who’s cursed by a Gypsy to lose weight until he dies. The film adaptation is equally ridiculous and even more disjointed than its source material.

2) Dreamcatcher (2003) – Aliens, psychics, alter egos, a genocidal army general, and an autistic man with the key to saving the world? Talk about unrestrained. The effects are 90’s Sci-Fi Channel-level awful while the dialogue is something out of M. Night Shyamalan’s worst movies.

1) Maximum Overdrive (1986) – Fun fact, King wrote and directed this 80’s crap fest while high on cocaine. It shows! It’s hard to tell what King wanted between a Cold War satire, a 50’s B-movie homage, or a machine gun-fueled Ac/Dc music video. Either way, I don’t even think King knows.

Stay tuned for my review of It.

Top 5 Best Stephen King Adaptations

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Hello! So, in between The Dark Tower and IT, I thought I would share my top 5 best and worst Stephen King adaptations. The Best got the popular vote leading into The Dark Tower, so here we go!

5) Misery (1990) – Kathy Bates’s terrifying performance is enough to watch this disturbing psychological horror flick. Misery is the tale of a fangirl who takes her obsession with an author one step too far.

4) The Dead Zone (1983) – Want to watch a thriller that’s politically relevant? Look up David Cronenberg’s classic supernatural thriller The Dead Zone. It tells the tale of a psychic teacher (a restrained Christopher Walken) who realizes that the popular presidential candidate (a terrifying Martin Sheen) tends to start WWIII.

3) The Shining (1980) – Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece is far different from the novel and that makes it a special gem. Kubrick’s adaptation is superior to King’s work, thanks to haunting imagery and an amazing performance from Jack Nicholson.

2) The Mist (2007) – Which was better? Stephen King’s horror novella with an ambiguous ending, or Frank Darabont’s no-holds-barred adaptation that polarized audiences? I’m going with the adaptation! The Mist is an unsettling film about good versus evil and features the most twisted ending of any horror film.

1) Stand By Me (1986) – I didn’t pick a horror film or The Shawshank Redemption, so sue me! Rob Reiner directed a funny, sad, and nostalgic film about growing up. I watched Stand By Me several times growing up and was touched every time.

That’s it for my top 5 best Stephen King adaptations! What are yours? And stay tuned for reviews of The Dark Tower, IT, and my top 5 worst list coming between this weekend and early September.