2017 truly is the best year for the King of terror: we already had an adaptation of The Dark Tower, a short-lived TV show based on The Mist, a huge worldwide success with It, and next month Netflix will release 1922. However, what truly surprised and seemingly came out of nowhere was the Netflix adaptation of the 1992 novel Gerald’s Game, and it is oh so good.
Written and directed by Mike Flanagan, who with his Hush and Ouija: Origin of Evil has proved of being one of the best low-budget horror directors of the decade, the story is an enclosed psychological thriller in which an erotic sex game between Jessie and Gerald Burlingame (Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood) goes terribly wrong when he dies of a heart attack and she is still handcuffed to the bed.
Not having read the book, I was quite unsure on the directions the story would take, especially since the premise seemed worthy of a 30 minute short at best. However, I was pleasantly surprised at the directions that the film took, telling not just a tight and nail-biting thriller, but also exploring different themes that are more or less explicit. Jessie’s powerlessness and limited movement are both symbols of the abuse that she suffered during her childhood, and a metaphor of what many women are put (and let themselves be put) through in order to stay alive in a man’s world. I never thought that, watching Gerald’s Game, I would finish it thinking about how selfish most men can be, using women as mere props and objects of pleasures, almost depriving them of their real personalities.
A film such as this heavily relies on good leads, and they do not disappoint: Carla Gugino easily delivers her best lead performance (second only to her role as Silk Specter in Snyder’s Watchmen), playing both Jessie and her calm inner-thoughts that keep her from completely losing her mind; Bruce Greenwood also keeps appearing during the film, taunting Jessie in more ways than one. Seeing all two (actually, three) interact with one another is truly a joy to watch. Shorter, but by no means less important, roles are also given to Flanagan’s wife and muse Kate Siegel, Henry Thomas, the young Chiara Aurelia, and the amazing character-actor Carel Struycken (The Addam’s Family‘s Lurch).
As far as tension goes, Flanagan manages to make the type of horror-thriller that I love: focusing more on storytelling and Jessie’s past, sparingly using music, and not using obnoxious jump-scares. Every moment is perfectly constructed, slowly putting each piece of the puzzle where they can fit, and slowly amping up the tension by adding more and more disturbing variables that could mean the end for our heroine. The Moonlight Man in particular was really starting to get under my skin, especially in how he was never accompanied by jump-cuts or musical cues. I really cannot stress how great Flanagan’s direction is, and the cinematography and sound of the film are perfectly on point. There is only one strong moment of gore that was well-placed and not gratuitous, but still delightfully hard to watch and in-your-face, so much so that I can see plenty of causal movie-goers despise the entire movie for that moment alone, even though it is relevant to the growth of the lead character.
[SPOILERS ABOUT THE ENDING]
I feel obliged to give my two cents on the ending of the film, something that has widely been criticized. From what I understand, it is pretty faithful to what King described in his novel, and it feels on par with other conclusions that he has written in the past. Instead of going for a darker, downer ending for Jessie, he redeems her character and helps her exorcise all of her demons of the past and present. Her seeing the Moonlight Man for what he truly is (a sick, pitiful man), she faces the fears that had always haunted her, and sees how small they actually are.
[END OF SPOILERS]
Overall, Gerald’s Game is another great addition in Flanagan’s filmography, and one of the most faithful and strongest Stephen King’s adaptations. With excellent technical qualities, stellar lead performances, and a controversial ending that I found quite fitting, this is a great iflm to start the month of October with.
Visual Effects: 9
Violence & Gore: 9
Sex & Nudity: 7
Drugs & Profanity: 5
Intensity & Horror: 8