Director: Mike Flanagan
Starring: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood
Review Author: Tony
Rating: 4/5 scotch whiskeys
A good adaption of Stephen King’s work is a rarity. Sure films such as Shawshank, The Shining, Misery, Stand by Me and recently, IT have all been great, but these represent such a small percentage of the countless poor adaptations. The issue is capturing the essence of King’s work. King has been an absolute machine for writing novels, novellas and short stories. Over the course of forty years, he has experimented and mastered various forms of writing. One key element missing from many of these sub-par adaptations is King’s twisted inner monologue.
I have certainly enjoyed many of Netflix’s original shows but the majority of their original films have failed to capture my attention. Cinemas and some filmmakers seem to be at war with the streaming service claiming that the best way to experience a film is on the big screen. It’s a sentiment that I don’t always agree with. Going to the cinema is a bit of a risk these days as some audience members attention spans have severely shortened. I’ve witnessed people glaring at their phones distracting everyone behind them, and others become bored and talk throughout. It takes only one person to ruin the experience. The majority of screenings I’ve seen this year have been fine but a few have been spoiled. Gerald’s Game is the first Netflix original that I have thoroughly enjoyed. It was a great opportunity to sit with two good friends and have a great night in. It was the first time I experienced how enjoyable new releases could be at home in the company of friends and family. I believe both platforms can deliver quality entertainment and should bury the hatchet and find some form of middle ground.
Jessie (Carla Gugino) and her husband, Gerald (Bruce Greenwood), are heading to their secluded holiday home to try and reignite some passion back into their marriage. Jessie is loving but also timid and under the thumb of her husband. Gerald brings a pair of handcuffs which he plans to use to spice up their time there. Gerard takes a viagra when Jessie isn’t looking and handcuffs both of Jessie’s arms to the headboard with the key just out of her reach. Thing’s start kinky but Gerald’s darker fantasies are exposed and Jessie is forced to fight him off. During the commotion, Gerald suddenly dies of a heart attack leaving Jessie tied to the bed frame. Trapped and isolated, Jessie’s sanity begins to slip as her only companion is a hungry stray dog. Jessie is forced to fight her own timid nature and confront her demons of the past as death lurks at the end of the bed.
I have neither read Gerald’s Game or seen any of Mike Flanagan’s (the director) previous movies. Flanagan has gained a reputation as one of the best horror directors working right now and Gerald’s Game is a testament to that. Working with a fantastic script that captures that inner monologue I mentioned earlier and getting career-best performances out of Gugino and Greenwood, Flanagan makes a truly grown up horror film free from shlock and common tropes associated with the genre. The majority of the film takes place in the bedroom, but it becomes a personal hell for Jessie, a literal and figurative prison. It’s an unsettling film that manages to build and build this insufferable tension that has you squirming and groping your seat. There is a scene that had the three of us screaming in disbelief but glued to the screen like a deer caught in headlights. If Get Out made you uncomfortable then Gerald’s Game is going to make you want to leave the room.
While both are very different films, I want to compare Gerald’s Game to IT (2017). They both share the same genre, horror, but each one is executed very differently. IT is a great film that looks fantastic, superbly acted and thoroughly entertaining throughout, but it wasn’t particularly scary. IT feels very much like a modern horror with loud sound design to bolster jumpscares. It’s an effective technique but it also feels a little manipulative. The scares in IT used this trope a little too much and they lost their impact early on. The scares in IT were more effective from a visual standpoint. Gerald’s Game uses a far more subdued approach to its horror by highlighting the dire situation the protagonist is in. The horror is presented not in spurts but as a heightened sense of danger that is always present. There’s very little music throughout and no loud jumpscares to cheapen the experience.
Perhaps the biggest rarity this year is getting three great adaptations of King’s work in the form of IT, Gerald’s Game, and the series, Mercedes Man. It has more than made up for the lackluster adaptations, The Dark Tower and the abysmal series, The Mist. Luckily we have another Netflix exclusive based on King’s work, 1922, releasing on the 22nd of this month. Gerald’s Game is an example of fine filmmaking and breathing new life into the horror genre.