It happened to me four times that a horror movie grabbed and kept me on the edge of my seat from the opening credit scene till the end. Upon viewing Gerald’s Game twice, back-to-back, it’s now five times!
Directed by Mike Flanagan and released by Netflix, this film is the latest adaptation of a novel by Stephen King. One of the less appealing novels of his, that is. At least, that’s what I understood by talking to people and gathering a handful of information, since I haven’t read the 1992 book.
Thus, the best compliment I can make to Mike Flanagan and his latest film is that it made me want to read the novel straight away!
Let’s take a step back, though. What’s Gerald’s Game about? Jessie (Carla Gugino) and her husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) go for a weekend away to try and save their marriage and sex life. On a lake house, they cut themselves off the world and, upon trying some good, old extreme sex, Gerald suffers from a heart attack and dies instantaneously.
Jessie, handcuffed to the bed in consequence of the couple sex attempt, has now to find a way out of the house to call for help or survive long enough for somebody to come rescue her.
All the while, anxiety and terror kick off, obviously, and she must deal with phantoms from the past, psychological flaws and various issues connected to her life and certain things that happened along the way.
Simple set-up, confined location, only two actors (mainly one, though) to carry the plot along and a novel that had to be stretched out to make a feature-length film. What could go wrong? The answer is: everything!
However, Mike Flanagan is the next big thing in horror cinema, in my opinion, therefore everything works spotlessly. I don’t want to jinx it to him, but this guy is great! After the surprisingly good Oculus (2014) and Hush (2015) and the even more surprising Ouija 2: Origins of Evil (2016), Flanagan knocks it out of the park again with this chiller.
Gerald’s Game benefits from fantastic direction and seamless editing (both by Flanagan), that – alongside the lack of soundtrack for the most part of the film – creates a dreadful, highly uncomforting atmosphere from beginning to end.
The thing with Gerald’s Game is that it’s a psychologically brutal experience, one that gets under your skin and sticks with you for a long time (at least, that’s how I perceive it). Right when I thought the movie couldn’t get any more eerie, half way through it takes an even darker route when it delves into the memories of Jessie.
In certain ways, Gerald’s Game reminded me of another great King’s adaptation that came out in the early 90s, featuring an isolated location and only two main characters (can anyone guess what is it? I will review it for the next chapter of my Classics of Horror series).
All of that can work only if the acting is on par. Carla Gugino, who I wasn’t a big fan of, has the 99% of the screen time: she’s the focus of the story, the device to carry the plot on, a constant presence for the viewer to cope with. And she is fantastic!
Honestly, I don’t care too much about the Academy, but Gugino being nominated for best female lead would be pure cinematic justice! I haven’t seen a better performance in any of the horror movies that came out in 2017 – including Bill Skarsgård, James McAvoy and Kika Magalhães (The Eyes of my Mother).
Especially, considering she had almost only her facial expressions to work with, Gugino does a mesmerising job in portraying fears, doubts, uncertainty of her character, Jessie.
Bruce Greenwood’s performance is also not to be overlooked, mostly for the physicality he gave to his character. Nevertheless, Carla Gugino is by far the show-stealer in the film.
Talking about characters, I can’t forget to mention a peculiar presence (on and off screen), portrayed by Carel Struycken – any fan of the Adam’s Family here? – who courageously brought on screen his Acromegaly disease and made it part of the story. He’s great as well in Gerald’s Game.
If you got to this point of my review, you might think this movie is “just” a psychological thriller. Don’t you worry: there’s also quite some effective and off-putting gore and one, extremely well executed, jump-scare that got me really bad!
A quick recap: Gerald’s Game is, to its core, a slumber and dark exploration of demons from the past, personal fragilities and fear of an impending doom. Yet, Flanagan does a brilliant job at giving hints that would lead a mature viewer to question certain characters in the movie. It’s filled with great performances and has an enthralling female lead, a truly Oscar-worthy one, who delivers the director’s ideas and novel message in a very potent way.
Before I conclude, I must say that the ending might be polarising. From what I understood, it is pretty faithful to the source material, but I found it a too sudden change of tone in comparison to the rest of the movie. Even though it feels a bit detached from the rest of the film, I loved the message and subtext in it, which emerges stronger upon second view. Gerald’s Game is a must-watch, guys, don’t miss it out! Cheers!
Oh, by the way, Gerald’s Game is officially my third favourite King’s horror adaptation of all time!