Gerald's Game Movie Review
Written by Ren Zelen
Released by Netflix
Directed by Mike Flanagan
Written by Stephen King, Jeff Howard and Mike Flanagan
2017, 103 minutes, Not rated
Netflix release on 29th September 2017
Carla Gugino as Jessie Burlingame
Bruce Greenwood as Gerald Burlingame
The premise of Gerald's Game seems to me to be a quintessential Stephen King ‘what if’ idea – Gerald and Jessie Burlingame, a long-married couple, take a weekend retreat to their isolated lakeside house, with the express intention of spicing up their sex lives with some kinky games.
However, when one of the games unexpectedly goes very, very wrong, the wife, Jessie, finds herself alone, securely handcuffed to a stout, heavy bedframe and out of reach of any means of escape.
Joining the current trend for all things Stephen King, Netflix has made a film based on King’s 1992 novel of the same name. The film is directed and edited by Mike Flanagan (Hush, Oculus, Ouija: Origin of Evil), written by Jeff Howard and Flanagan and has two central performances from Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood.
As ever, King displays a masterful grasp of character and mounting dread, which the adaptation has done well to convey. We are carried along with Jessie (Carla Gugino) as she descends through levels of panic, despair, madness and hallucination, punctuated by moments of clarity, logic and resolve.
Once she realizes the extent of her predicament - that she is trapped on a bed in an empty house with an open door, but with no hope of imminent rescue - she initially begins to fall apart. Conflicting voices in her head begin to take over, primarily her husband’s, taunting her helplessness, but then another voice of her own - a stronger, cooler self - emerges from the depths of a psyche now forced to face its deep-buried resentments and fears.
The realities of the ‘romantic getaway’ at their secluded summer home gradually come to light, as the solitude allows Jessie to analyse the more questionable aspects of her relationship with her husband and face the childhood secret she has guarded for her whole life.
Her demons, however, are not solely mental ones. The open front door lets in a hungry wild dog, and as the shadows of night begin to fall and Jessie becomes increasingly weak with hunger and thirst, another, even more terrifying threat, appears out of the darkness.
As time passes and Jessie’s unwelcome memories rise to the surface, she begins to understand that the shackles she finds herself trapped in, are merely a physical representation of figurative ones she has been forced into, in one way or another, for much of her life. Jessie has been talked into submitting for long enough – now it’s necessary to fight back, or Death will be the next one demanding her capitulation.
What follows becomes pretty hard for the viewer to watch, as Jessie finds reserves of courage, ingenuity and a tolerance for extreme physical pain which tips the movie well into the horror genre.
Jessie is a hell of a role for Carla Gugino, in all senses of the word. She is an underused actress, too often relegated to supporting parts. Casting Bruce Greenwood to play Gerald is also a nice subversion of the type of roles for which he’s best known. Both actors rise to the challenge gloriously and Gugino’s performance carries the film, creating a complex character we initially pity and then tremulously root for.
The Dark Tower and the recent, hugely popular, version of IT, have offered cinematic scope for King adaptations. His work seems to be everywhere at the moment, with versions of The Mist and Mr. Mercedes coming to the small screen and a King retrospective screening at the BFI in London. King apparently dedicated Gerald’s Game to his wife Tabitha and her sisters – a tribute to the resilience of women. I have not read the book myself, but I hear from those who have, that they would deem it very hard to adapt.
Having watched Mike Flanagan‘s film version, I would say that he has pulled off one of the most compelling single-location survival movies of the past few years. Not easy to do, with a story that is mostly contained in one room with predominantly one character.
Gerald’s Game is described as a psychological suspense film and it certainly is that, but it also has elements of the supernatural and some acute physical goriness that might push it further into the horror category than some of the recent films that have been labelled under that genre with less justification.
I found Gerald’s Game to be a compelling horror/thriller – intense, suspenseful, teeth-grittingly graphic and exceptionally emotionally nuanced – complete with hallucinations, vicious dogs, and a protagonist who engages us in her personal hell and traumatic battle for survival…and yes, there is even a final twist.