What would you do if you were handcuffed to a bed, your husband drops dead from a heart attack and there is no one for miles and miles? This is the set up for the survival horror film film Gerald’s Game based on the eponymous 1992 novel by horror master Stephen King.
The film stars Carla Gugino (Watchmen, Sin City) as the imperiled wife Jessie and Bruce Greenwood (Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Star Trek) as the titular Gerald. It is directed by Mike Flanagan known for such chillers as Oculus and the brilliant Hush. The film is distributed by Netflix – they are really churning out the movies these days – and was released on September 29. Now that you are all caught up we shall proceed on to my spoiler free review in three easy to chew and digest slices:
Slice 1 – Breakout performance
With her character alone in the house and her husband dead Carla Gugino has to carry the film as the main character. If the audience did not connect with Jessie then the whole thing would fall apart. Thankfully Gugino nails it and delivers a layered, tortured, recognisable character who feels like a real person. And that’s not easy when you spend 90 per cent of the movie handcuffed to a bed. From disbelief to resignation, from despair to hope you are on this journey with her moment by moment, rooting for her all the way.
Greenwood, the only other main actor in the show, is also fantastic. Gerald looks normal but he has an undercurrent of slime and just a hint of twisted. The couple’s marriage is strained and their romantic getaway gone horribly wrong brings all the festering issues to the surface. The intensity between him and Gugino is palpable and one of the best aspects of the film.
Slice 2 – Going deep
I know what you’re thinking. No I’m not psychic, I’m just intuitive. You’re thinking that a film about a woman handcuffed to a bed for practically a whole movie does not sound like the most interesting premise. Where do you even go from there? Well you go inside – inside Jessie’s mind that is. Our desperate protagonist starts hallucinating and as a viewer there are times you wonder what is real and what isn’t. And that is a fun feeling.
Jessie also flashes back to a childhood trauma and we dig deeper into her character; King has a penchant for exploring how childhood trauma affects people as adults. As Jessie racks her brain on how to survive her situation, and all the thrills and chills that entails, she also unravels her own mind and identity, making for a deep viewing experience.
Slice 3 – A brutal experience
The film reminds me somewhat of Hush which makes sense since both are directed by Mike Flanagan. Both films have trapped female protagonists in life threatening situations; in Hush it is a deaf woman being stalked by a killer. Both films also suck you into the character’s experience. In Gerald’s Game you feel the pangs of Jessie’s thirst and every flicker of pain. There is a scene where Jessie tries to get her hand out of the handcuff and it gets bloody. So bloody my wife had to turn away. Stuff gets real.
You should check out the film for this taut, gripping experience alone but you should definitely watch it for Gugino’s powerful performance. I never read the novel so I cannot compare it to the film but I will say that it is one of the best films based on a King novel that I have ever seen.
Rating: Gerald’s Game gets 4.25/5 delicious sips of water.
For more King adaptations you can check out my review of the horror flick Cell here.