Following the record shattering success of Stephen King’s It, another film adaptation of one of the horror legend’s lesser known novels is already almost upon us! Gerald’s Game is the story of a wealthy American couple who, in their autumn years, try to spice up their sex life while on a quiet weekend away. But when the games go awry, lives become threatened by a ravenous force, a shadowy figure and a terrifying ultimatum that haunts their horizon.
HeyUGuys met with established horror film-making partners Mike Flanagan (writer/director) and Trevor Macy (producer) to discuss their adaptation of King’s novel, the state of modern horror and the future of movie distribution via online streaming sites.
TREVOR MACY: Yes, we’ve done five movies and have a series coming up.
How did you first meet?
MIKE FLANAGAN: I’d done Absentia in 2011 and was starting to take meetings about future work. The first was at Intrepid Pictures. I went in and pitched Trevor five or six ideas and it was terrible. Everything crashed and burned. But on my way out the door I turned around and mentioned this short I made about a haunted mirror (Oculus) which I had wanted to expand for years. Trevor enjoyed the short so we developed the script and turned it into a feature. Since then we’ve just continued working together.
TREVOR MACY: As a producer, I collaborate with all of my directors but you don’t really get that kind of creative vibe often that I have with Mike. When we disagree on something, the movie gets better, which is something to aspire to. We don’t disagree on everything but when we do I feel like we have a very well developed means of conflict resolution that’s all about figuring out the best idea. Most of the time the best idea is his but occasionally I have one. We also encourage our crew to behave in a similar way/ If there’s a good idea out there, pipe up! Because we would like to steal it from you.
Did the Gerald’s Game film project find you or did you find it?
TREVOR MACY: After Stephen King saw Oculus, we partitioned, as one does, for the rights to adapt one of his novels. Fortunately, he liked our pitch and previous work so things fell into place.
MIKE FLANAGAN: I was nineteen when I first read the book in college. I’d been a Stephen King fan since I was a kid. I remember putting it down with goose flesh all over my arms and two thoughts occurred. I thought it was brilliant but totally un-filmable. For years I carried it around with me during LA movie pitch meetings in case anyone ever asked what my dream project was. It’s such a harrowing story: this dive bomb into the psyche of an amazing protagonist. I’d always wanted to turn it into a film. It’s just taken me half my life to do so.
Did King himself have any creative involvement in the adaptation?
MIKE FLANAGAN: He approved the script, recommended Bruce Greenwood as a good choice to play Gerald and was the first person to see the movie. He was involved from a distance in the way that King is with all of his adaptations but that was still incredibly intimidating for me, as a fan.
I can imagine there being a lot of pressure in adapting one of his novels.
MIKE FLANAGAN: Oh yeah. A lot of pressure.
TREVOR MACY: Well for Mike yeah but I think a lot of that is self inflicted. I don’t think he’d be telling stories if it wasn’t for Stephen King.
MIKE FLANAGAN: Very true.
It starts as a bed bound horror like Misery and The Exorcist but is incredible how it evolves from that. Did you deviate much from the source?
MIKE FLANAGAN: I think it’s a pretty faithful adaptation. The book is unique because everything that happens in it is in Jessie’s head as an inner monologue. Bringing that out and onto the screen was hard but I think we lucked out with our two lead actors (Bruce Greenwood and Carla Gugino) who were both so good and up to it. Without them we would have been a little lost.
The story warped and became so gripping at by extrapolating character revelations to serve almost as almost plot points which must a been a massive challenge when writing it.
TREVOR MACY: That’s very kind of you to say because that was always an aspiration. The lens of those characters was the inspiration for the script and it does turn on the revelations about her in a way that we feel that is enhanced by the fact that it’s a genre movie; even though we don’t think of it as totally horror. “Harrowing” is the word we like to use to describe it.
I consider myself pretty desensitised when it comes to screen violence but there was one scene in Gerald’s Game that made me look away. Do you feel there is still a pressure to up the ante and out do with shocking moments like that, maybe to satisfy gore hounds?
MIKE FLANAGAN: I don’t tend to think that way. All the shocking moments in this were in the book. I was just trying to do right by the book. I generally don’t try to think too much about what an audience will expect or what the trend of the month is or what they want to see. I tend to make things that I want to see and hope that they want that too. I don’t think we were trying to appease anyone. We just wanted to do right by the source material.
TREVOR MACY: Also, we hope it’s more disturbing because you care about the characters it’s happening to. That moment you are referring is as a result of one character’s journey to self-revelation and empowerment which is probably also why it lands so well.
As well as the slow-burning, hallucinatory horror in Gerald’s Game, you also have the Moonlight Man character. How did you go about bringing him to life on screen?
MIKE FLANAGAN: The man in the corner is one of the most chilling moments from the book and we wanted him to be alien and surreal but also to be pretty human which is something that Carl (Struycken) brought to it. You assume so much isn’t real in the story and that alludes to a very controversial factor which was polarising for the fans. Is he a spectre of death or a flesh and blood human? He’s described in a lot of detail in the book but when we cast Carl that was pretty much it. Bob Kurtzman, our special make up designer who did the prosthetics, exaggerated some features but we pretty much let Carl be Carl.
Do you think there will be a big change in horror following the success of the recent It adaptation?
MIKE FLANAGAN: Over the last couple of years, unique, original horrors have been doing really well. Before It you had Get Out and Split. We’re in a very exciting time where movies like It Follows and The Babadook are grabbing audiences. Horror fans tend to shy away from the formulaic and embrace original voices which I think is phenomenal. We haven’t really seen that kind of movement in the genre since the seventies. It’s a very exciting time.
TREVOR MACY: But it’s a high bar to make movies that people like. A deserving audience demands a better quality film.
General audiences, particularly horror fans, wise up and tire pretty quickly, especially when it comes to generic shock jumps, stock plotting and stereotypes.
MIKE FLANAGAN: Yeah, I don’t think you can make the teenagers by the lake horror movie these days. Not that I ever wanted to, it’s not my personal taste. I think they’re a product of its time.
Even as a parody, I don’t think that would work.
MIKE FLANAGAN: Well there are a couple.
TREVOR MACY: Final Girls.
Oh yes, that was actually quite good. But subverting horror while retaining what it is that makes audiences want to go and see them is a big challenge.
MIKE FLANAGAN: Knowing it as part of the canon, I think you can probably do something but you have to be deeper and more creative.
Are there any franchise horror movies you would consider remaking or making a sequel to? For instance, could you see yourself directing an Elm Street remake?
MIKE FLANAGAN: There would always be the twelve year old in me that would always be like “yes! Absolutely! That would be so cool!” but it all depends on who’s doing it and what they want to do with it. I really believe when it comes to rebooting, remaking or making sequels, never tackle anything that you can’t improve. You saw what happened when someone tried rebooting The Fog and The Thing. You can’t improve on John Carpenter. I would be very reluctant to take on something I didn’t think I could make better. With Elm Street, the first movie is perfect. I also think New Nightmare is pretty perfect, so it would depend on the property.
TREVOR LACY: When we made Ouija: Origin of Evil, what was interesting about that was we were able to take a film that had an existing awareness and do something completely different. If you could meet that standard then yes but its often a hard standard to meet.
Do you both plan to continue working in horror?
TREVOR LACY: Yes. Horror is not something we always hope to do but I think it is something that we will always do.
MIKE FLANAGAN: Even if we get away from it for a project, which hasn’t happened yet, I think we will always come back to horror.
Moving on to the likes of Netflix and streaming sites. How do you feel about the agonisingly slow death of the hard copy format and a likely future where films exist solely as files on computers?
MIKE FLANAGAN: As a life long cinephile, I want my movies to find theatres, I want my hard copy, my collectible Blu ray but Netflix, Hulu and Amazon are changing the way we watch things which is actually very good for us as film-makers. I know for a fact more people saw Hush the first weekend it was on Netflix than would have seen it in a theatre if we released it. The content is going directly to the audience now and you can build a theatre with a decent TV and sound system in your own home which rivals the way I would watch movies growing up. I am very grateful to Netflix for taking the risks that they do creatively because no one else would have made this movie. No one would have been brave enough. Netflix let film-makers be film-makers and just try to generate great content. There is an adjustment in the distribution model but that’s the future. That’s where we’re headed.
They are providing a platform and a way for these films to get made. Will Gerald’s Game be released on DVD or Blu-ray?
MIKE FLANAGAN: No. It will be a Netflix exclusive.
What’s up next for you guys?
MIKE FLANAGAN: We’re doing The Haunting of Hill House for Netflix which is coming in 2018 and taking up all of our time.
I am really looking forward to that.
TREVOR LACY: We have other things cooking but they’re not ready to discuss.
Gerald’s Game launches on Netflix, 29th September