Gerald’s Game review – for those who prefer their horror psychological
Yeah, we’re back with Stephen King. You can’t keep the lad off the screen, but credit where credit has always been due, when a movie based on his work gets it right, it gets it bloody right. Yes, King’s horror It is still playing in a cinema near you, but for those who prefer their horror psychological and streamable, Netflix has the anti-date movie for you. There will be no chill with this Netflix movie.
From Mike Flanagan (Hush, Oculus, Ouija: Origin of Evil) comes this take on the 1992 Stephen King novel long thought to be one of his lesser works and also believed by many to be unfilmable. The story is deceptively simple: a married couple, Gerald and Jessie Burlingame, go to their remote cabin to rekindle their ailing marriage, when a sex game goes wrong, and Gerald ends up dead, Jessie realises she’s trapped handcuffed to the bed with no mean of escape, and an apparently hungry stray dog waits for the sun to go down.
King is a horror master. We all know this, just like we know that when his horror works best, it’s not the supernatural, it’s the psychological. His greatest monsters were never Randall Flagg or Pennywise, they were the real monsters in the real world. Like Kurt Dussander, Warden Norton, Annie Wilkes and Mrs Carmody, his finest villains are the ones we pass on the street every day.
In Gerald’s Game, much like with the frankly brilliant Hush, Flanagan makes the most of a minimal cast and a sparse location. He has two leads, who show that while they’ve mainly been secondary players for years, they’re now two of the best players in Hollywood. Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood give awards-worthy performances as a married couple with an age difference, and a dark secret to be uncovered. Neither play their hand straight away, but both make you intrigued by the characters even when things are becoming twisty and strange.
Flanagan is clearly a talented horror film maker, but more than that he has an eye for tension. The film is very clever in it’s setting up of elements that will later be important, either lines of dialogue, or the placing of items. It seems strange and almost awkward at first, until it makes perfect sense why he’s taking the time to place each item where it is. It helps to give the film a sense of space, or lack of it. Despite the size of the room Jessie finds herself stuck in, she barely has the bed to move about on.
As the film goes on, and the psychological elements begin to take hold, there are some cracks in the story. Namely, this is taking one of King’s lesser books, and the issues of his not-so-good works soon come to the fore. His obsession with incest is carried over, as well as his need to tie up the supernatural with the reality, which doesn’t quite ring true, but even so, the film is delicate enough about both to play them partially as real and partially as horror. The flashbacks into Jessie’s childhood and one event during an eclipse is particularly interesting, noting how easy it is for those we should trust to become monsters, and Flanagan handles it well, and gives his wife a dutiful cameo.
In fact, while it might appear that these trips into Jessie’s childhood might be issues or diversions from the broiling tension, in the end they actually add to it. They make what she’s going through all the harder, that her past and her present are both metaphorical and physical chains and Gugino sells it easily, while Greenwood manages to make the fever dream version of Gerald either how true he was or all the worst elements of him expanded into an obnoxious vision of who he could have been.
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When it comes to the final stretch of the film it might prove a little too intense for some; for those who found James Franco’s escape in 127 Hours tough, you’re in for a harsher ride for a good couple of minutes. But even so there should be enough intrigue, tension and horror elements to please everyone who goes looking for something a bit different for an evening. Much like It, this will no doubt come to be ranked as one of the better King adaptations, with two incredibly robust central performances by two of Hollywood’s best working talents, and might very well open the door for the odder, lesser King books to get fine Hollywood adaptations.
Netflix are becoming a real movie making talent, and Flanagan adds another great chiller to his back catalogue. This, like Gone Girl, is the anti-date movie, something that might very well cause couples to question their relationship, or it’ll remind you to use safe words and keep keys nearby.