Director: Mike Flanagan
Screenplay: Jeff Howard, Mike Flanagan
Starring: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Carel Struycken, Henry Thomas, Kate Siegel
Runtime: 103 Minutes
Gerald’s Game, an adaptation of Stephen King's novel of the same name, has come into being at a happily coincidental year for both good horror movies and a year that sees multiple Stephen King adaptations finally make it to screen. Although a much lower key production based on one of his well-received but less widely known works, Gerald’s Game sounds like the B movie alternative to his large-scale cinematic work, but it’s down to the intricacy of the execution that makes this a classy but incredibly nasty and thrilling little production.
The premise is relatively straightforward; a middle-aged couple, Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) and Jessie Burlingame (Carla Gugino), disappear for a romantic weekend retreat at an isolated lakeside cabin to try and rekindle their sexual relationship, but while trying to spice things up, Gerald has a heart attack and dies while she is handcuffed to a bed, and, following the subsequent realization that she is trapped with little hope of rescue, begins to let the voices inside her head take over.
This is a fantastically straightforward setup for an intense psychological horror, and director Mike Flanagan wrings it for every drop of tension that he can get from such a limited setup based within a single location and (for the most part) one character on screen. Flanagan has proved himself in the genre with the likes of the terrific Oculus, Hush and the better than expected Ouija: Birth of Evil, but this might be his best work as a visual storyteller.
This is a survival story first and foremost, and Flanagan sets up the pieces carefully before things go wrong as to allow her the tools she will need to make it through the weekend until (hopefully) someone arrives to find her.
Carla Gugino is an excellent and hardworking performer who really deserves more recognition she receives, and her she finally takes centre stage in what might be her defining role. It’s a desperately limiting manner of performance, but she’s so emotionally engaging and interesting as a character and performer that she locks eyes on the screen always. Bruce Greenwood is also equally excellent in making the most of a really strange and insidious role.
There’s also the issue of external forces, such as a ravenous stray dog slowly feasting on the remains of her husband, the damaging of her wrists and cramps as she sleeps, as well as the psychological factors that aren’t just to do with dehydration and delusion, but something that Jessie has been refusing to address all her life concerning her prevalent attraction toward abusive relationships in any constricting form.
The way in which Flanagan and co-writer Jeff Howard have chosen to present the internal monologues of Jessie talking to herself and working how what she can and can’t do in her restraints is a brilliant whittling down of the books original conceit that won’t be spoiled here, neither will the nature of the resolution which delivers one of the hardest to stomach sequences of drawn-out mutilation seen in any horror movie for years.
If there is an issue, then it comes down to the closing moments of the film that is going to divide opinion concerning where the film ultimately decides to take itself regarding its themes and established elements of the macabre and the real-life horrors that we must face up to. It certainly remains true to the bizarre ending of the book, but in a film that is overall this restrained and focused it feels a little out of touch even if it does make sense for the character journey.
Bottom line, Gerald’s Game is a seriously impressive film that takes its twisted premise and runs with it to incredibly satisfying ends. Flanagan continues to prove himself a hell of a horror filmmaker, but this is Carla Gugino’s hour and is worth seeing for her performance alone.