Adapting Stephen King for the big screen doesn’t always work out. For every “The Shawshank Redemption, “Stand By Me,” and “The Shining” there is a “Secret Window,” “Dreamcatcher,” and “The Dark Tower,” which means that by now King fans know better than to get their hopes up any time an adaptation is announced. Fortunately, the fall movie season is shaping up to be the strongest run of Stephen King adaptations the movies have ever seen. “It” is already a fan favorite and a box office sensation, dethroning “The Exorcist” to become the biggest horror grosser in the U.S., but Netflix is about to provide a one-two punch in great King movies.
The streaming giant premiered two original films based on Stephen King works at Fantastic Fest this weekend, “Gerald’s Game” and “1922,” and both earned strong critical reactions, with IndieWire’s Eric Kohn even giving both titles a higher review grade than “It.” All three titles have come when King fans have desperately needed them most. “The Dark Tower” was panned by critics in August, while television adaptations of “The Mist” and “Mr. Mercedes” were widely ignored this year.
“Gerlad’s Game” is adapted from King’s 1992 suspense novel and stars Carla Gugino as a woman who accidentally kills her husband (Bruce Greenwood) while handcuffed to her bed and is forced to reckon with the voices inside her head. Adapting one of King’s most absurd premises sounds tough on paper, but “Oculus” and “Hush” director Mike Flanagan figured it out by remaining faithful to King’s breakneck pace.
Kohn calls “Gerald’s Game” “disturbing” and “grotesque” in his B+ review. “Gugino and Greenwood deliver first-rate performances enriched by their characters’ ambiguous qualities,” he writes, “and the movie maintains a gripping trajectory as Greenwood ups the creepy ante and the prospects for Gugino’s escape grow dim.”
Raves for “Gerald’s Game” also came in from Bloody Disgusting, which says the movie successfully captures “‘Misery’-levels” of “cringe-worthy tension,” and the AV Club, who calls the film “potent, horrific—and oddly cathartic.”
But the reviews are even better for “1922,” based off the King novella that was featured in his 2010 collection “Full Dark, No Stars.” Thomas Jane plays a farmer who conspires to kill his wife (Molly Parker) and recruits his son to help him commit the crime. But the wife won’t go down without a haunting, and soon the farmer is attacked by rats and becomes convinced his dead former lover is terrorizing him from beyond the grave.
Kohn calls “1922” the best Stephen King adaptation of the year in his glowing review. “The movie suggests what might happen if Terrence Malick took at stab at ‘The Tell-Tale Heart,'” he says, “with a mentally disturbed male protagonist straight out of King’s ‘The Shining.'”
IndieWire isn’t alone in its rave for “1922.” Tasha Robinson of “The Verge” says the movie “is a reminder that King’s biggest strengths lie in his unparalleled ability to build tension, create atmosphere, and tell a direct and brutal story.” Thomas Jane has been singled out for his career-best work as well.
Thanks to Netflix, Stephen King adaptations will remain at a critical peak this fall season. Here’s hoping future King adaptations like the “Firestarter” remake and the Hulu television series “Castle Rock” continue to keep the bar set high.