Title: Gerald’s Game
Director: Mike Flanagan
Starring: Carla Gugina, Bruce Greenwood
Runtime: 103 minutes
What It Is: Jessie (Gugino) and Gerald (Greenwood), a middle-aged couple who are married but no longer love each other, have decided to take a secluded vacation in the hopes of salvaging their marriage. Gerald, however, can’t “get it up” in the bedroom without tying Jessie to the bed–except this time, he’s brought handcuffs. When things go awry, and Gerald lies dead of a heart attack on the floor, Jessie is literally trapped on the bed, and she knows all too well that in their secluded vacation home, no one can hear her scream, and as her time runs out, she does her best to find a way to escape, all the while her mind turns back upon the past, and to traumas she has buried deep inside herself.
What We Think: Based on one of Stephen King’s lesser known horror novels, Mike Flanagan brings Gerald’s Game to the screen with better effectiveness than anyone could have expected, largely owed to the screenplay’s sometimes intimate adherence to the progression of the novel. There is a relatable sense of claustrophobic dread about the situation the main character finds herself in, not because of actually being able to relate to the specifics of how she got there, but because of how intimately the story captures her state of mind and walks us through how she copes with the situation, and with the traumas arising from her past.
There are, however, a number of questionable choices the film makes. Firstly is that it lacks its own stylistic identity. Jessie’s situation invites inventiveness in transferring it to film, and yet the filmmakers take no risks in regards to this. Visually, even with editing, it’s fairly straightforward, even flat, where it could have been so creative. The choice to externalize her thought process into actual hallucinations–she imagines she sees both herself and Gerald in the room with her, and they serve as the voices in her head–is brilliantly executed in the sense that they really feel like extensions of her thought process. It’s a real phenomenon that we hear the voices of people close to us and the voice of ourselves in our own heads, which makes it easy to sympathize with Jessie, and it puts us literally inside her head as she thinks her way through her predicament, but choosing to present it this way in the film–with the voices in her head being hallucinations in the room with her–took away, somewhat, from a key aspect of the story: Jessie’s isolation. The sense of her being truly, irreversibly alone. But the film still ultimately worked more than not, and for the most part, the film’s worthwhile qualities overshadow its flaws.
Our Rating: C+, Gerald’s Game satisfies as a horror film in many aspects, finding its deepest horrors in human nature, and it is uncommonly disturbing and, at times, uncomfortably eerie. This film has its own “Misery” moment as well, and it is nauseating. And the film even succeeds as the story of someone descending into the depths of themselves to face their deepest fears with the hopes of coming out the other side, lending it unexpecred poignancy, which is all owed to its faithfulness to its source material. Yet the film lacks enough subtlety for it to wield the kind of power it otherwise could have. Rather than suggest the subtext, it shoves it in your face. But even so, it’s definitely worth watching.