GERALD’S GAME (2017)
Directed by Mike Flanagan
Written by Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard (screenplay), based on a story by Stephen King
Starring Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Chiara Aurelia, Henry Thomas, Kate Siegel, Adalyn Jones, Bryce Harper, Gwendolyn Mulamba, & Carel Struycken as the Moonlight Man!
Exceptional performances and a spattering of terrifying moments make GERALD’S GAME worth playing. Carla Gugino is exceptional as the bound and trapped woman—a prisoner of circumstance and her own psyche as realized through HUSH/OCCULUS writer/director Mike Flanagan—a filmmaker who seems to get exponentially better with each feature he releases.
Attempting to rekindle that spark they feel they’ve lost, Jessie (Gugino) and her husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) vacation during the off season at a cottage/condo by the lake. Attempting to introduce a little kink into the relationship, Gerald suggests he handcuff Jessie to the bed. When Jessie reluctantly agrees, Gerald exhibits a bit more of a twisted streak than she is comfortable with and demands Gerald to let her go, but Gerald has a heart attack and falls off the bed, cracks his head open, and dies, leaving Jessie bound to the bed with no one in the house and no one scheduled to disturb them for days and maybe even weeks. As the hours turn into days, Jessie struggles to come to grips with her situation, attempts to hatch once scheme to escape after another, and keep her sanity as she is forced to watch a stray dog eat her husband on the floor in front of her piece by piece.
It’s no easy task telling a story about one character handcuffed to a bed for two hours, but Flanagan and Gugino do it. Carla Gugino, an actress I always pay attention to whenever she appears on screen, really shows how much of an acting powerhouse she really is here. She goes through an extremely wide range of emotions through the course of this film. Gugino must play the cold and jaded housewife, a role that very much could be an unlikable character, but through subtle nuances, she was able to maintain my sympathy through this whole ordeal and even have me root for her to succeed, despite being not so great a person to her husband (granted Gerald isn’t husband of the year either). As the story flips back and forth through key moments in her life, we find out why Jessie is as cold and damaged in the beginning. This type of character evolution is dealt with in a patient and careful manner, one that might be a bit slow for film, but feels like it is much more appropriate in a book (which makes sense since this is an adaptation).
Having not read the book, I don’t know if GERALD’S GAME is a faithful adaptation or not. I do know that the film kept me entranced for the most part even though there are some moments that lag a bit towards the last half hour point. Amidst Jessie’s delirium, as her paranoia takes over and the shadows begin to grow faces and claws, Mike Flanagan doles out some stunningly creepy scenes utilizing darkness, distance from the camera, focus and out of focus shots, and just plain disturbing imagery. The ending itself is rather surprising and upon viewing it, I wish Flanagan peppered in more of these creepy scenes through the rest of the film with a bit more generosity. That said, without giving away too much, the scenes of sheer, palpable horror (as few as there are), work exceptionally well. There is also some pretty meaty scenes where the dog begins to dine of Gerald’s body that will most likely make you wince. I know it did it for me.
Gugino is fantastic, as is the rest of the cast (including a twisted little part for E.T.’s Henry Thomas to play and remind us how good of an actor he really is). GERALD’S GAME is one of those Stephen King stories that feels more like intense drama with some graphic scenes of gore and horror than a straight up horror film. Flanagan has a conservative hand in horror this time around, focusing and succeeding on making flawed characters likable and understandable. While this isn’t your typical horror film, it does feel right at home with such King classics as STAND BY ME and MISERY, both more focused on character and drama than shock value and constant scares. But it’s got Carla Gugino in a nightie for the entire film handcuffed to a bed, which in itself ain’t that bad a time at the movies.