Gerald and Jessie Burlingame have gone to their summer home on a warm weekday in October for a romantic interlude. After being handcuffed to her bedposts, Jessie tires of her husband's games, but when Gerald refuses to stop she lashes out at him with deadly consequences. Still handcuffed, she is trapped and alone. Painful memories from her childhood bedevil her. Her only company is a hungry stray dog and the sundry voices that populate her mind. As night comes, she is unsure whether it is her imagination or if she has another companion: someone watching her from the corner of her dark bedroom.
Oculus director Mike Flanagan is quickly becoming a major staple of the contemporary horror movie scene. This year, he's got two movies out: the critically-acclaimed psychological horror Hush, about a deaf mute who's being stalked by a masked man, and Ouija: Origin of Evil, a prequel to the 2014 film by Stiles White. Another film originally scheduled for 2016, Before I Wake, the story of a boy whose dreams and nightmares become a deadly reality, was pulled from its release date earlier this year and is currently hanging in limbo.
The three-way conversations between these characters work stunningly well. Setting up Jessie’s lifelong traumas as a literal face-off between the external and internal perspectives in her life is a smart, symbolic move that makes King’s internal voices shtick more resonant and believable. And as a director, Flanagan uses the mobile characters’ physical interaction with Jessie and each other to give the staging an intensity and dynamism that’s hard to imagine in the book. He’s like a talented theater director, figuring out how to make a talky one-set play visually engaging and dynamic.
The movie does the most important thing for a Gerald’s Game adaptation: it improves on the original while bringing it accurately to the screen and it provides viewers with both the character-rich, internal side of King’s work, and the startling, visceral side. The movie never gets better than the low, malicious monologue Greenwood delivers about the approach of death. As much as Flanagan pushes to open up the movie outside the room where Jessie is trapped, the film’s power comes from how well he pulls off what happens in that room, and how the script and the actors come together to convey the horrible inevitability in Jessie’s situation.
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