We are incredibly lucky that Stephen King decided to become an author, rather than act on any of the deprived, terrifying ideas that come into his mind. “Gerald’s Game” is truly a story that only a master of suspense and horror could produce.
TRIGGER WARNINGS: This film and review contain mentions of childhood sexual assault and graphic mutilation.
Marital issues have plagued Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) and Jessie Burlingame (Carla Gugino) for a long time. Together they decide to take a weekend trip to Maine, as an attempt to rekindle what’s left of their sex-life. Jessie agrees to be handcuffed to the bed as a part of Gerald’s fantasy. It doesn’t work as expected, and Jessie asked to be let free from the restraints moments before Gerald suffers a serious heart attack and falls to the foot of the bed with Jessie trapped.
No houses for miles, nobody coming to interrupt their special weekend, phone just out of reach and handcuff keys still sitting on the bathroom counter… after hours in cuffs, Jessie realizes the danger she’s truly in after the pain from the cuffs has all but debilitated her hands and a local stray dog smells fresh blood after Gerald’s body falls onto the bedroom floor.
“Gerald’s Game” director Mike Flanagan, much like King did before him, is quickly developing his own name in the world of horror and suspense. His previous films, “Oculus,” “Hush” and “Ouija: Origin of Evil” have all received some critical praise, and “Gerald’s Game” more than earns and holds a spot as one of the director’s better films.
Even though the film largely takes place in a single location, a bed with Jessie trapped on it, it continues to captivate and stay interesting. Jessie’s mind quickly devolves from shock to fatigue so severe that her mind begins to conjure images of Gerald, among other characters, who she speaks to about the current situation.
The performances of the two lead actors, Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood, can’t be understated. In a film with so much dialogue, it was essential for the leads to share a tight chemistry, and it’s visible throughout the film.
The pair helps make the horror of the situation feel real, which is vital for a story with so few traditional scary moments. There’s not a single jump scare, instead the horror comes from the unknown. Noises just outside of the bedroom, movement in the dark that’s impossible to see. It creates a tense environment where Jessie’s delirium can make anything possible on top of the very real threats present.
On top of this, the film has one of the most grotesque moments captured on film in quite a while, fully encompassing finale of the original Stephen King story in a way that only a visual medium can. If the film was purely judged on this moment alone, of taking the written word and adapting it, it would be considered a modern classic.
It’s a story that just makes sense for Stephen King to have come up with. The isolation, the difficult family history and yes, the supernatural elements all scream out King’s name.
The only questionable element of “Gerald’s Game” goes back to Stephen King’s original novel. By relating Gerald with Jesse’s father so closely, and to some extent “the man made of moonlight,” the story puts blame on a victim of childhood sexual assault for being trapped in her current situation.
The narrative choice is executed very well and works from a story perspective; however, it is not a narrative choice that should have to exist at all. Characteristically throughout literature and other popular media, women’s bodies are used as the only battle ground for their own personal growth. Jessie must accept and overcome the most difficult moment of her life, in order to escape her current situation, yet it is problematic that sexual assault tends to be the only way men know how to write about the development of women.
Is “Gerald’s Game” for everyone? Absolutely not. There are moments in this film that will make even the most jaded horror fans wince in pure uncomfortable fright, but for an October horror, one that doesn’t rely on ghosts or demons, “Gerald’s Game” is original and sure to scare.