Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 43 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directed by: Mike Flanagan
Written by: Jeff Howard & Mike Flanagan
(based on the novel GERALD’S GAME by Stephen King)
Starring: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Chiara Aurelia, Carel Struycken, Henry Thomas & Kate Siegel
Director Mike Flanagan has quickly been carving out quite the career in the horror genre. Flanagan’s track record hasn’t been spotless (BEFORE I WAKE was shelved for good reason), but the man has delivered a tense home-invasion thriller (HUSH), a supernatural/psychological scarefest (OCULUS), and even made a OUIJA prequel into a loving throwback to 70s satanic panic flicks (OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL). Flanagan’s success has now led to the completion of a project that he’s been wanting to make since he was a teenager: an adaptation of Stephen King’s supposedly unfilmable novel GERALD’S GAME. Despite a set up that sounds like it could potentially get boring fast, 2017’s GERALD’S GAME (the third King adaptation in the space of this year) is a tense, dark, and gripping ride.
Jessie (Carla Gugino) and Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) are a troubled couple trying to save their failing marriage. The dysfunctional pair set out for a romantic weekend at a cabin in the middle of nowhere. Gerald reveals that he brought two “real deal” handcuffs with him and chains Jessie to the bed to play a kinky sex game. However, things go horribly wrong when Gerald drops dead of a heart attack and leaves a mortified Jessie handcuffed to the headboard. As hours tick away, Jessie finds herself trapped in a seemingly inescapable situation and facing a hungry dog that begins chowing down on her husband’s corpse. If she wishes to survive, Jessie must use all of her energy to think outside of the box and confront past demons that plague her memories.
GERALD’S GAME sounds like it could potentially be a rather boring movie, because (after all) we’re watching a woman who’s handcuffed to a bed for nearly the entire film. However, Flanagan plays with narrative tricks to keep things interesting the whole way through. As Jessie’s body begins to suffer from dehydration and insurmountable stress piles up on her psyche, she begins to hallucinate. These hallucinations include an alternate all-knowing version of Gerald and herself that give pieces of advice. This was a brilliant way of showing how Jessie’s thought process was functioning, as opposed to a simple voiceover or tedious silence.
There are also childhood flashbacks that are masterfully interweaved as we get more character development behind Jessie. These flashbacks don’t necessarily feel like cheap sequences of sloppy exposition either, because Flanagan weaves our adult protagonist into them in clever ways. One scene features a very creepy Henry Thomas (as Jessie’s abusive father) talking to the Jessie and some creative editing intercuts her adult self in place of her younger self. Touches like these show that Flanagan does indeed know how to make seemingly doomed projects (this novel was considered unfilmable for over two decades) into compelling cinematic experiences.
The cast is relatively small, given the premise, but these actors do an excellent job of drawing us in. Carla Gugino portrays her growing desperation in ways that have the viewer constantly on edge, while also interacting with herself and hallucinations in a convincing manner. These were not easy accomplishments and Gugino knocks it out of the park in her role! Bruce Greenwood is scummy as pompous lawyer/husband Gerald, but also gets to come off as more likable in Jessie’s imagined version of her recently deceased husband. There’s also the “Moonlight Man” (called the “Space Cowboy” in the novel) and the less I say about him, the better. He makes for a few very creepy scenes though.
GERALD’S GAME fumbles a bit during its final 15 minutes, which heavily rely on a cheesy use of voiceover that the rest of the film never lowered itself to. To be fair to the film’s finale, King’s book also concluded in a mishmash of messy plot revelations and felt out-of-place. The ending of GERALD’S GAME is easily its weakest point, but that doesn’t necessarily lessen of the well-built suspense and disturbing imagery that came before it. There’s one squirm-inducing sequence that’s pretty much guaranteed to elicit vocal reactions and winces from viewers. It’s probably the most disturbing movie moment of 2017 so far…at least, it is for me.
Though it stumbles during its finale, GERALD’S GAME is a tense, suspenseful, and appropriately horrific adaptation of one of King’s more polarizing novels. Mike Flanagan keeps things visually interesting and emotionally engaging, while Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood nail their performances. This is a different kind of horror story, but remains a horror story nonetheless that’s grounded in reality. GERALD’S GAME may also give viewers a newfound phobia of handcuffs!