Gerald's Game 2017
While trying to spice up their marriage in their remote lake house, Jessie must fight to survive when her husband dies unexpectedly, leaving her handcuffed to their bed frame.
September 29. 2017
Jeff Howard (Based on the Novel by Stephen King)
Carla Gugino, Henry Thomas, and Bruce Greenwood
Stephen King has created multiple universes, but one of his most harrowing and poignant tales is set in a single, ordinary bedroom. I say ordinary because, on the surface, nothing looks out of place; like the couple that sleeps in this house, an outsider looking in will see nothing out of place. But when you spend some time confined within these 4 walls, you notice the sinister nature of the 4-post bed and an ominous presence lurking in the dark corner. This, too, is a parallel for the husband and wife; beneath the veneer of picture-perfect marital bliss are deep cracks, mysteries, and (most alarmingly) secrets. We’re supposed to know everything about our wedded partners, but can we ever know our husbands and wives, our friends and family—or even ourselves with secrets buried? What begins as a game becomes a deadly serious situation when secrets and unspoken truths collide like a fatal combination of high-blood pressure and Viagra.
For fans of Stephen King, Gerald’s Game is pure bliss; as previously mentioned, the master fear practitioner brings his complete imagination to a confined, claustrophobic stage. It’s an unlikely prison with unimaginably high stakes. While there are many of King’s hallmark trappings, we are given a very real meditation on female submission, male domination, and the lingering effects of childhood traumas. Director Mike Flannery delivers a terrifying gut-churner with echoes of Misery, a shocking creeper that culminates in cringe-inducing self-mutilations the likes of which we haven’t seen since 127 Hours.
Official Synopsis: While trying to spice up their marriage in their remote lake house, Jessie must fight to survive when her husband dies unexpectedly, leaving her handcuffed to their bed frame.
Gerald’s Game is completely engrossing and will surely keep its audience on the edge of their seats; at the same time, it’s an uncomfortable film to watch—and I’m not talking about the film’s unflinching gore. It’s designed to spawn conversation about difficult issues, dark and emotional aspects of society that can be excruciating to acknowledge. This isn’t a date movie, as I can imagine it bringing to the surface painful relationship issues that many people deal with in silence, important and under-discussed aspects of long-established societal mores that promote an oppressive patriarchy. Discussions of childhood trauma are especially poignant, and the film speaks to the lasting nature of abuse and parental betrayals. As Jessie Burlingame (played by Carla Gugino) comes to understand, sometimes those charged with protecting us from monsters are monsters themselves.
While the portrayal of female submission and humiliation are hard to endure, Gerald’s Game is a tale of female empowerment, of casting off shackles both literal and figurative. It cautions that the path to liberation isn’t easy; there are oppressors so adept at enslavement, their voices hound us even when they’re not around. Freedom requires complete honesty, not just from a partner or a mate, but from oneself; the most devastating lies are the ones we tell ourselves. Only by facing demons and learning from past wounds can one hope to achieve a truly liberated life.
Flanagan’s presentation is impressive; his portrayals of internal dialog and flashbacks are perfectly interwoven within a laser-focused survival horror. Even though the film runs over 105 minutes, it never feels long or lags; it’s rare for a character-driven piece to maintain such succinct pacing, and Gerald’s Game held me rapt. There was a lot of exposition in Act 3, but presented in the form of an epistolary it becomes a riveting prologue. Even after being presented was a satisfying conclusion, we’re given an additional twist in the final minutes, one that leads to an unforgettable confrontation.
Gerald’s Game is about a powerful woman (more powerful than she initially realizes) who finds extraordinary strength under the direst of circumstances. A film adaptation’s success depends entirely on this part being tackled by a capable thespian, and Gugino exceeds in spades. Every shred of her performance feels genuine, and it couldn’t have been an easy part to play, requiring her to go to some very dark places. Bruce Greenwood is great as her husband Gerald, whose percolating perversions are the catalyst for this nightmare scenario. Henry Thomas is great as Jessie’s father in flashbacks; he plays a despicable character, the seemingly perfect father who violates the primal trust between father and daughter. Carel Struycken (best known as the Tall Man in Twin Peaks) is arresting as The Moonlight Man—but the less you know about this character the better.
Bottom Line: Hardcore Stephen King fans will pick up on a reference to The Dark Tower, but Gerald’s Game, as opposed to most of the author’s stories, doesn’t revolve around paranormal phenomenon. As such, it’s a more brutal and intense watch that might not appeal to the same mainstream audiences recently won over by Andy Muschietti’s IT. Still, Gerald’s Game is cerebral, socially relevant, and legitimately chilling. Another hit for director Mike Flanagan.