“Gerald’s Game” (2017)
Running Time: 103 minutes
Written and Directed by: Mike Flanagan
Featuring: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood. Henry Thomas
Gerald: “Isn’t this why we came up here? To spice things up and try and push the boundaries.”
Mike Flanagan the writer/director of “Gerald’s Game” (2017) the latest Stephen King adaptation to hit screens this year, in what feels like a year in which we have had an endless supply of Kings work onscreen, with the quality running from dire to excellent. I am happy to report that this new film is on the excellent end, with a refreshing take on a novel that had remained untouched until now. Its a film full of drama, tension and human truths that touch on the main characters life choices that have led her to her predicament.
Over the past four years Michael Flanagan has carved out a niche for himself in the world of the Horror genre, he has created and adapted as well as rebooted a nice variety within the genre. His movies all have the common theme of isolation as a backdrop to some pretty heavy character drama. He also is able to introduce his audience to characters in a quick efficient way, so that when there is jeopardy there is an instant identification with the fate of the films protagonist. This is one of the greatest let downs of current (and past) horror movies in that there is no time given to give characters depth, this is eschewed in favour of action and gore.
In “Gerald’s Game” we are introduced to Jessie and Gerald who are preparing for a weekend away to try and save their marriage and sex life. The pair arrive at the lake house where Gerald takes a Viagra pill. He walks out of the closest with handcuffs in hand, handcuffing Jessie up willingly to the bedposts. Both excited over the thought of what happens next, Gerald takes another Viagra pill. Gerald begins to be rough with Jessie, and whilst she plays along, she begins to become uncomfortable by Gerald’s behaviour. Gerald goes too far and causes Jessie to panic and demands that he stop and un-handcuff her. During some rough housing Jessie bites his lip, making him stop. He then grabs for his chest and suffers a heart attack. Jessie tries to break out of the handcuffs and calls out for Gerald to wake up, but, after a minute, she sees blood pouring out of Gerald’s head. Jessie calls out for help, however nobody can hear her.
That’s really is just the set up to a movie that will, for the most part stay within the confines of a bedroom in the middle of nowhere with little hope for rescue from any third party – well almost but that would be giving too much away.
Mike Flanagan has created a really unique movie that cracks along at a really good pace, it uses its location extremely well, making you feel, like the main character, helpless as you watch her realize the serious predicament she finds herself in. Flanagan has made this a movie not only about being helpless, handcuffed to a bed, but also what its like to be stuck in a marriage that is going nowhere fast. It is also about the past and how this can trap you into a trajectory you don’t even know you are on – it is a masterful way of creating an adaptation of a book that retains that books atmosphere, whilst changing and introducing elements that make the movie a very separate entity from the novel. There is a reason why genre movies are so popular, as well as so successful, that is because within their structure you can make them about anything, commenting on whatever you would like under the guise of scares, violence and thrills. The audience doesn’t even have to be consciously aware of the deeper meanings (even if they aren’t really that well disguised), which makes the analysis so much fun, which in turn can lead to great conversations about these films.I dare you not to talk about Gerald and Jessie’s relationship if you are married or have a long term partner.
One of the elements that makes “Gerald’s Game” so interesting is that once the main character, Jessie, realises she is alone she starts to acknowledge some truths not only about her marriage but also her past as well as her own self. These realizations all come through hallucinations of not only her dead husband, Gerald, but a version of herself as well as her Father, and one other seemingly otherworldly figure you might expect to see (at least some version of one) in any Stephen King based story. The version of Gerald that Jessie starts to see can only give information that Jessie either already knows, suspects or unconsciously realizes which leads to some pretty horrible personal reveals that only come to light in the most dire of situations. The advice Jessie gives herself are more from a personality type that she wishes she was in real life, so she is a go getter, a pragmatist and brave. Jessie ends up giving her the help he needs to get through her situation while the Gerald hallucination is always trying to tell her she is going to die.
For this movie to work you needed two actors that were going to be able to sell the myriad range of emotions that are needed to make this plot believable, as well as engaged with an audience that would find them both sympathetic as well as flawed to make the story something that could be interesting. So it is fantastic Flanagan was able to cast Carla Gugino and the great Bruce Greenwood. The strength of these two actors is that they have both been believable character actors for decades as well as having the skills to carry an entire movie – something they have to do here – true it is Gugino who has the main part but this would not work without the skilled Greenwood to act as her foil. Gugino is just different enough in the dual roles she plays, so that they are not just stylised performances but they end up being very different so we can tell them apart – put that down to a canny reading of the material from Gugino who has to be one the most talented actresses (and unsung) working today.
This is a horror film, it fits alongside the great “Misery” (1992) very easily in that it also has equal parts drama and thriller elements with little reliance on comedy – which is something some horror films rely on to get an audience through some possibly disturbing subject matter. To be fair none of Flanagan’s movies rely on any comedic elements, they all play like real world movies, with exceptionally strong characters that ground everything else. You care for his characters and don’t want to see them in peril or at least escape from the clutches of whatever situations they find themselves in. This is an excellent film and I recommend to all fans of Flanagan, King and of course horror fans.
“Gerald’s Game” is streaming on Netflix now.