It’s been a very strong year for Stephen King adaptations (well, adaptations not named The Dark Tower), with the release of Andy Muschietti’s IT and several new TV series, too. Now we’ve got two other stellar projects making their way to Netflix, Gerald’s Game from Mike Flanagan (Ouija: Origin of Evil, Oculus, Hush) and 1922 from genre newcomer Zak Hilditch. This dynamic duo of Netflix films recently screened at the 2017 Fantastic Fest in Austin, and I'd like to share my thoughts on these two wildly different films that were both equally compelling and entertaining viewing experiences all the same.
Gerald's Game: With Gerald’s Game, Flanagan has nearly done the unimaginable by somehow finding a way to translate a story that is mostly internally driven by its protagonist, and bring it to life visually in a way that’s still in line with King’s material, but also still works as a thoroughly cinematic event. That’s no small feat by any means, and yet Flanagan somehow makes it look effortless with Gerald’s Game, with his impossibly faithful examination of one woman’s will to survive and her ability to confront the ghosts of her past that have continued to haunt her well into adulthood.
Gerald’s Game starts off idyllically enough, with Jessie (Carla Gugino) and her husband, Gerald (Bruce Greenwood), heading out to their vacation home in hopes of spicing up their stagnant marriage with the help of some sex games and fancy lingerie. But after her husband handcuffs her to the bed and tries some disturbing role playing, Jessie has some serious second thoughts, but unfortunately Gerald succumbs to a heart attack right then and there, leaving her stranded with very little hope for survival.
From the start of Gerald’s Game, Flanagan confidently sets a tone of unease, first with the appearance of two sets of handcuffs being packed away in a suitcase (the visual representation of Jessie’s internal struggles) as well as the appearance of a stray flesh-hungry dog whom the couple cross paths with as they approach their vacation property. Jessie has always been surrounded by predators, but her horrific predicament after the oppressive Gerald kicks the bucket presents a grueling yet unique opportunity for her to tackle her inner demons, both literal and metaphorical, ultimately proving she’s worthy of surviving her ordeal.
And holy hell, does Gugino give this role 150%, because there are many reasons why Gerald’s Game works as well as it does, but it’s the actress’ performance that becomes the engine continually driving Jessie on this harrowing journey. Even though it might seem like an “easy” role on paper, the way Gugino is positioned on the bed throughout most of Gerald’s Game and the disturbing themes of King’s original material make the things that Gugino’s character must endure so emotionally grueling to watch, that I cannot even fathom how hard it must have been for her to handle those aspects of the script as well as the physical demands, too.
There’s also one moment in particular (which, if you’ve watched Gerald’s Game already, you know exactly what I’m talking about) that was so cringe-inducing that I actually had to look away for a moment, because I felt like I was going to be sick. And considering Gerald’s Game isn’t a particularly gory or gruesome story, it becomes this iconic moment that stands out as one of the most nerve-wracking moments we’ve seen in modern horror, and that’s pretty damn cool. Kudos, Flanagan, for once again delivering the genre goods.
Oh, and I wanted to make sure and mention that the legendary Carel Struycken (Lurch in the Addams Family movies, Twin Peaks), who makes a memorable appearance in Gerald’s Game, too, and I totally geeked out when I saw him here.
Movie Score: 4/5
1922: I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t even know that a feature film version of 1922 was even a thing, making Hilditch’s adaptation one of the biggest surprises for me this year, because it completely hit me out of nowhere in more ways than one. A haunting tale of murder, deceit, and the psychological effects those harmful attributes can have on someone’s psyche, 1922 is a beautifully constructed old-school horror tale anchored by a powerhouse performance from Thomas Jane, whose commanding presence looms over every scene he appears in like a harbinger of scorn and rage. Oh, and there are rats. Lots and lots of rats.
The overall story of 1922 is framed as a flashback, as we initially follow an older version of Jane’s character, Wilfred James, into a hotel where he rents a room in order to pen a letter of admittance about past crimes he has committed. We find out, through Wilfred’s own admissions, that he and his wife, Arlette (Molly Parker), don’t see eye to eye when it comes to their farm-centric existence in a small town in Nebraska. Wilfred is proud to own and work their humble land, in hopes of one day passing it down to his son, Henry (Dylan Schmid), when the time is right, but Arlette has her hopes set on selling the property and moving the family to the “big city” (in this case, Omaha) and pursuing her dream of opening and running a dress shop. Not ready to give up his farm, Wilfred conspires to murder his spouse with the help of Henry, neither of them realizing there’s no such thing as a “perfect crime.” They initially get away with their murderous misdeeds, but we see the toll their selfish act of butchery takes on their respective consciences, as well as how it warps their sense of morality moving forward.
Equal parts character-driven horror and supernatural spook-fest, 1922 feels like King’s version of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tale of maddening remorse, "The Tell-Tale Heart," but infused with his own macabre sensibilities, amping up the paranoia and dread, as well as incorporating several moments of shocking violence. There’s also one scene where we bear witness to a character whose face has been nibbled away by hungry rats, and it’s not an image I’ll shake any time soon. Dear god, it’s so wonderfully grotesque.
Gorgeously shot, meticulously crafted, and anchored by Jane’s endlessly captivating performance of a man driven to madness by his own destructive nature, Hilditch manages to evoke a sense of timelessness with his approach to 1922, making it a successful outing for the director, who sublimely hits all the right touchstones of what Stephen King fans could ever hope for and want from a cinematic adaptation of the acclaimed writer’s work.
And yeah, there are lots and lots (and lots) of rats.
Movie Score: 3.5/5
In case you missed it, check here to read more of our Fantastic Fest 2017 reviews and interviews, and stay tuned to Daily Dead for more of our coverage of the festival.