It’s deeply heartening that the takeaway message is that one can find recovery, calling upon past pains to work through current terrors
“Gerald’s Game”: Mike Flanagan turns Stephen King’s novel into a visceral horror movie
Jessie Burlingame (Carla Gugino, who gives a career-defining performance) and husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) are looking to put the spark back in their eleven-year marriage with a quick getaway to their isolated lakehouse in the country. A weekend of rest and relaxation awaits! But while Jessie hopes to reconnect with her husband through good old-fashioned sexual healing, kinky Gerald has something more exciting in mind: two sets of industrial-strength steel handcuffs, one for each bedpost. When Gerald’s heart suddenly gives out before he can free the increasingly unhappy Jessie, the mild-mannered housewife finds herself facing a most unexpected fight for survival. She’s stuck screaming for help, and possibly going mad in the process. Based on King’s 1992 suspense novel, and directed by Mike Flanagan (“Hush, Ouija: Origin of Evil”, “Before I Wake”), “Gerald’s Game” is an intense, claustrophobic “127 Hours” meets “50 Shades of Grey”. As a book, “Gerald’s Game” is alternately disturbing, grotesque, and absurd; Flanagan hits all those beats on cue. Flanagan has built his name on slickly scary yet poignant horror hits. But here he ups his game, relying not on creepy MacGuffins and jump scares, but instead brewing a seductive tension, electric with sex appeal and threat. Greenwood strides around half-naked, muscular, and attractive yet intimidating. As Jessie is helpless on the bed, his ghostly doppelganger torments her with doubts, needles her about the ways this situation could lead to her “hard” death. When her cooler more confident doppelganger appears to snap back with him, “Gerald’s Game” risks becoming a chamber play, too much chatting with too little that’s cinematic. But the cast makes the dialogue magnetic, and Flanagan never falters. Playing with the cut, he throws these figures around the room, disorienting the audience, and embedding us in Jessie’s dazed and frightened mindset. Sure, there’s a squirm-inducing brutality (particularly evident in the climax) that makes this solid genre film-making. It will make you scream and possibly also make your stomach turn over.However, ultimately the true horror deals with the betrayal of trust that leaves an ever-present, but well-hidden mark. We cover up that trauma with lies that bind us and until we face those lies, we can’t face the truth. It’s deeply heartening that the takeaway message is that one can find recovery, calling upon past pains to work through current terrors.
By Ken Warren, 2017/2018
“Gerald’s Game” is available on Netflix Instant
Directed by: Mike Flanagan
Starring: Carla Gugino, Henry Thomas, Bruce Greenwood
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