With everyone talking about the new adaptation of Stephen King’s horror novel, ‘It’, yet another King horror property has been birthed onto screens. And believe it or not, this one is the stronger film of the two. One cannot help but think the disproportionate attention paid towards ‘It’ versus ‘Gerald’s Game’ has something to do with the platforms they were released on (cinema against Netflix) and of course, the subsequent commercial success behind the former. But I digress. Also potential minor spoilers.
Full disclosure, horror has always been a genre I’ve personally looked down upon. With the exception of few works like [Rec] from 2007 (side note: do not bother with the US remake), nothing about it seems controlled or disciplined. By in large, it seems like a cheap, and frankly tacky, strand of film heavy-handedly laden with jump scares, gore, camp, and a black void of character logic. Enter: ‘Gerald’s Game’.
Jessie (portrayed by Carla Gugino) and the titular Gerald (portrayed by Bruce Greenwood) decide to take a weekend away at an isolated holiday house. A last minute attempt to save their marriage which is apparently falling apart. Jessie agrees to be handcuffed to the bed to spice up their sex life, but things soon take a turn for the worst. Jessie feels ill at ease, and asks to have them taken off. Before anything else can happen, Gerald suffers a heart attack, leaving Jessie chained up, alone, with no initial means of escape, and essentially left for dead. What happens next involves a fight for survival against a deprived body, hallucinations, a very hungry and very stray dog, as well as a nightmarish figure of disturbing proportions.
The problem with most horror is a lot of it’s not very scary. Different people are afraid of different things. As a result, many films resort to jump scares and gore to guarantee at least one pants wetting. ‘Gerald’s Game’ does something completely next level, and gets to the core of fear. It gets into the nitty gritty of real life, whether it be the terrifying prospect of being trapped with no way out, or the subtle lividity of a corpse. But more than that, it crawls inside the psychology behind the trauma someone endures in being trapped, in more ways than the physical. Sexual abuse from a parent, sacrificing your ambitions for a comfortable marriage, chained to a bedpost to die– all are in a sense almost identical to one another on an existential level. It’s at the point where the crux of it all is painted clear as day, and the true ghoulish killer reveals itself: men and toxic masculinity. Throw in a whole flurry of uncomfortable imagery and emotions grounded in reality, and you have yourself a bona fide horror film.
While ‘Gerald’s Game’ strings itself along as a cohesive albeit anxiety ridden narrative, it wasn’t without its flaws. For one, certain instances of pacing and the timing where certain information was revealed seemed incongruous. Not just in the way blatant exposition presents itself, but more so within the realms of poor writing or editing choices. In addition to pacing and timing, there were moments where scenes felt drawn out, though whether this was intentional to highlight the journey or simply the intent to make the audience even more uncomfortable is unclear. And finally, while ‘Gerald’s Game’ generally pulls off the tired trope of a divided mind plus hallucinatory characters in a mostly fresh take, it was something that elicited an eye roll or two when it became apparent it was to be a primary method of revealing the plot. But there’s nothing to be done about that sans drastically changing the source material which would have been even more disastrous.
All in all, ‘Gerald’s Game’ is definitely a film this non-horror fan would recommend to all you would-be audiences out there for a not-so-fun but well constructed ride. With strong directing from Mike Flanagan, a career highlight performance from Carla Gugino herself, and masterfully crafted scenes of skin-crawling discomfort, this stands to be one of the better works from Netflix’s otherwise mediocre output of original films.