Gerald’s Game

2017 | Unrated (R equivalent) | starring Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood | directed by Mike Flanagan | 1hr 43mins |

2017 Halloween Horrorfest #5

{Warning Contains Spoilers}

If one wanted to make the case that Hollywood tries to set trends as well as follow them, one would only look at the increased interest in author Stephen King in 2017. Despite, It’s perfectly timed and well executed capturing of 80s nostalgia and creepy clown zeitgeist, I don’t know anyone who was clamoring for a year full of Stephen King adaptations. Now we have Gerald’s Game, King’s 1992 minimalist claustrophobic thriller widely believed to be un-filmable, gets dusted off and reformed to film by director Mike Flanagan. Unlike The Dark Tower, The Mist and Mr. Mercedes series or the upcoming Castle Rock and 1922, I have a pretty good idea where the timing around this adaptation came from: as a winking, impish rebuttal to 50 Shades of Grey.

Gerald’s Game centers around an absurd but unsettling high concept idea. A couple (Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood) arrive at a secluded cabin in the woods for a weekend designed to spice up their marriage. Gerald secures his wife, Jessie, to the bedposts with handcuffs and after a brief attempt at bedroom role playing Gerald has a heart attack and dies on the bed, leaving Jessie alone in a position precarious enough to eventually dehydrate, starve and kill her. Stories of accidents and freakish twists of fate tend to unnerve me the most. There seems like few things more frightening than dying along, very slowly, seeing it coming and knowing it was because of a simple mistake or stupid decision. It’s where movies about getting lost in the ocean (Open Water), the woods (Backcountry or Black Water) or space (Gravity) excel.

Flanagan knows his way around this type of movie, having strummed the strings of single-location horror films very well with the recommendable Oculus and Hush. But those movies were also fun orchestrated genre films, where this is a minimalist survival tale. There is something about Gerald’s Game that feels too polished. It lack raw, desperation. And that’s where the “un-filmable” charge comes from. You either keep the movie raw, real and grueling at the very real risk of it becoming a total unwatchable bore or you do what Flanagan does here, give the audience all sorts of trap doors out of the situation in the form of flashbacks and internal monologues that turn the movie into a puzzlebox while kneecapping it’s potential for real horror. The movie has enough flashbacks and hopeful problem solving that at no point was I afraid Flanagan would subject us to anything really horrific.

As Jessie goes mad with delirium she starts having delusions, talking to her husband, herself (Gugino in quasi- duel role) and seeing a glowing-eyed figured that comes at night with a medical bag of bones waiting to collect her.  Visions that turn the movie into a bit of a mental mystery as the captive hero winds through her memory to decode why she came to be with this man and uncovers childhood sexual abuse. The screenplay is spot on-  a perfect reflection of King’s dialogue, where seemingly normal people talk about grinding up bones and bodies turning to rotten meat. Everyone in King’s world is a potential serial killer. In one of the creepier elements, a neighborhood dog wanders into the room and sits in waiting to feed on Gerald.

Game takes turns for the sleazy but not the truly frightening or tense. Flanagan keeps things pretty much flat-lined in the suspense department, not seizing on moments to maximize the tension. The film becomes less interested in the survival scenario than it does with Jessie’s mental discoveries. It is intriguing watching Gugino run through the mental gymnastics of thinking up new ways to get herself free, being thwarted by the most maddening of tiny things and taunted by her husband. That’s the core of the film and it works.

Where Gerald’s Game is really going to sink or swim with viewers is in faithfully executing the book’s epilogue. Flanagan does his job here in that his job was to bring the book from page to screen, but I’m not certain this ending works as well on screen. 95% of the movie fits into a nice, neat, single-location minimalist thriller and then open up wide in the final act. I didn’t like it for the same reason I don’t like the director’s cut ending of Little Shop of Horrors. It’s an interesting twist of an idea, that works on it’s own, but it just doesn’t feel like it fits the rest of the movie.

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