Director Mike Flanagan has become somewhat known for supernatural horror films (Before I Wake, Ouija: Origin of Evil) but one of his best films was the little-known Netflix-gem Hush – which (on top of being a very well-executed thriller) added an new-ish twist on the home invasion genre. So it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that his adaptation of the Stephen King novella Gerald’s Game will chill you right to the bone.
Synopsis: “While trying to spice up their marriage in their remote lake house, Jessie must fight to survive when her husband dies unexpectedly, leaving her handcuffed to their bed frame.”
Normally in survival films, there is some kind of malevolent force at play. Whether it be rabid animals, supernatural sprits or sociopathic killers there’s usually someone/thing that the protagonist can focus their rage at. In Gerald’s Game, Jessie Burlingame’s (Carla Gugino) isolation and immobility (both literal and psychological) are her only true hurdles.
This kind of film is risky (the kind of films that Netflix seems to favor) because a large portion of the story takes place one room, with one character isolated in one location. There’s no room for conventional action, fight scenes, elaborate chase sequences or even interaction with any other actual human being. The film leans heavily on the strength of the lead actress and Gugino’s beguiling performance truly puts the audience in Jessie’s handcuffs. Every beat of panic, desperation, sadness and psychosis that Gugino undergoes are felt deep in the pit of your stomach.
Gugino is not totally alone (well, she is, but not in terms of performances) in this effort as Bruce Greenwood (portraying her husband, Gerald) helps give Jessie an imaginary sounding board, other than herself. He’s able to capture the kind of incisive, methodical malice you’d want out of a hallucinatory husband who reflects Jessie’s crippling self-doubt. Also – at 60 years old this guy has the kind of body most dudes wish they had a half that age! So, shout out to Greenwood on that one.
Flanagan poetically blends Jessie’s past trauma with her current predicament and leverages her psychotic break to manipulate the audience’s expectations. As Flanagan takes us deeper into Jessie’s downward spiral, our own grasp on what’s real begins to loosen. As an escape/survival psychological thriller, Gerald’s Game immersive vicariousness is more haunting than any number of larger-budget supernatural horror flicks. The first hour and a half of the movie is layered with gripping, intense, mind-fuckery – all excellently executed. If you enjoyed Hush, this film will definitely appeal to you – for the most part.
There is a segment at the end of the film that feels a bit out of place. Without going into too much detail, it felt kind of tacked on and tonally very different than the rest of the film. It doesn’t take you out of the experience but moves so much faster in terms of narrative compression that it is a bit jarring. Aside from that small piece, the entire film is shot in a way to convey the haunting beauty of being left to die in a really fancy lake house. The contrast of a pristine summer retreat and a slowly deteriorating leading lady is captured with a furtive macabre that reinforces the audience’s sense of impending dread.
Both Gerald’s Game and Hush are available on Netflix now.
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