Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Movie Review: Gerald's Game (2017)


A suspense and horror psychological drama, Gerald's Game explores a broken marriage and childhood trauma through a sex game gone wrong.

In Alabama, married couple Jessie and Gerald (Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood) are trying to spice up their stale marriage by spending a romantic weekend at an isolated lakehouse. On the drive to the cabin they encounter a stray dog, and upon arrival Jessie tries to feed it. Gerald is using Viagra and has brought along handcuffs to instigate a rape fantasy.

He handcuffs Jessie to the bedposts and encourages her to scream for help, with no neighbours anywhere within earshot. She quickly expresses her disapproval of the whole scenario and demands to be freed, but Gerald suffers a fatal heart attack and slumps to the floor. Jessie is unable to free herself, and the dog, smelling Gerald's body, joins her in the bedroom and starts munching on the corpse.

An adaptation of Stephen King's 1992 novel, Gerald's Game creates an irresistible premise, mixing the mounting horror of expiration by shackled abandonment with the gradual release of repressed childhood memories. Director and writer Mike Flanagan efficiently works through the introduction to get Jessie onto the bed, her hands in handcuffs, her husband dead on the floor, and a mean dog smelling fresh meat. And then the fun starts.

The bedroom becomes an active zone where Jessie's strained mind unleashes companions in the form of a cynical post-death Gerald exposing the frailties of their union and cheering on her hopelessness, countered by a strong unbound Jessie advocating ingenuity in the name of survival. Intermittently her memories take her back to a key family vacation when she was twelve. The young Jessie ended up sitting on an outdoor swing next to her father to watch a solar eclipse, and what happened next shaped the rest of her life in ways she can only now start to understand.

Back in the bedroom the shadow of death by dehydration starts to creep over Jessie, and literally in the case of a shadowy nighttime monster in the corner. Narrative weaknesses in King's source material are unfortunately transposed to the screen. As Jessie's ordeal reaches a gory climax, a late but unwanted and exceptionally poorly defined character is tossed into the narrative, weakening an otherwise potent psychological vector.

Regardless of the disappointing denouement, Carla Gugino enjoys a career highlight and delivers a stellar performance as both the real Jessie and her resolute alter ego. In a role that could have easily descended into hysterics, Gugino maintains impressive control and a strong hold on her character's warped reality.

Gerald's Game quickly turns into Jessie's nightmare, a single bedroom where all of her life's horrors are waiting to pounce.




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