Well shit. I was not expecting Netflix’s newest horror movie original to be as good as it is. Especially after the garbage can that was Death Note (2017).
If you haven’t seen or know anything about Gerald’s Game yet, then stop reading this and watch it. I went into the movie blind, not knowing what to expect, and I promise there’s no better way to watch this film.
Unless you’re a fan of the book, that is. In which case, I don’t really know how you’d feel about the movie as I’ve never read it… So, I’m going into this review with no bias. I’m also going to attempt reviewing this movie without spoiling too much of the story since this is a brand-spanking new horror movie.
Gerald’s Game is based on the 1992 Stephen King novel of the same name. It follows a married couple, Gerald and Jessie Burlingame, as they embark on a romantic romp in their secluded cabin. They’ve found the only way Gerald can maintain an erection is by handcuffing her to the bed. He insists on using the real deal because anything else is too flimsy and would break.
While handcuffed, Jessie panics as her husband starts playing out some kind of rape fantasy. She kicks him away, and they proceed to have an argument while she’s still chained to the bed. Gerald has a heart attack and dies, leaving Jessie stranded with no one.
No one… except a stray dog who’s there to feast on her husband’s corpse and a mysterious figure standing in the shadows.
The rest of the movie plays as a psychological thriller as Jessie has to use her intelligence and rationality (which are fading as she goes longer and longer without food and water).
In general, I’m a huge fan of these sort of “isolation” thrillers. The concept is so simple, but it’s almost always effective because of how claustrophobic it can make us feel as viewers. Then, with the added element of the stray dog and the mysterious figure hiding in the shadows, we have a movie built on nothing but tension, and you feel it every second Jessie is handcuffed to that bed.
One of the first notes I made while watching Gerald’s Game was about how incredible the acting was. Carla Gugino (Jessie) and Bruce Greenwood (Gerald) both bring their A-game to bring two complicated characters to life. Gugino especially is awe-inspiring as we watch her sanity slowly crumble while her rational self, free from the handcuffs, tries to keep her connected to reality so she can figure out how she can get out of the handcuffs before she dies.
It’s not an easy role to play because the story hinges on her ability to make us believe she’s in real danger. If it’s not done right, then the rest of the film will fall apart around her. And I can say the same about Greenwood’s performance, even though it isn’t central to the story. He’s very smooth, which shows me why she fell in love with him in the first place. But there’s a dark undertone to everything he says, and from the moment he started talking about Kobe beef, I knew there would be some serious underlying issues within their relationship. I just loved everything he said and the way he said it. Every time Greenwood gave one of his speeches, I was enthralled because he was so good. I can’t imagine anyone else bringing this title character to life the same way.
It’s beautiful how simple and effective Gerald’s Game is. I imagine it’s a challenge to film something that only takes place in one room because it might cause the audience to get bored. But director Mike Flanagan created such a great ambiance and paced the movie well enough with the dream sequences, that I never got bored. I really have nothing to say about the production because it’s so well done. This movie was absolutely stunning in every way, and I hope we see more horror movies taking this simple approach to fear because it worked so well.
The Reality of It All
I think the reason I’m drawn to this genre of horror is because of how realistic it can get. Honestly, Stephen King is at his best when he’s writing these kinds of stories, and I’m so glad Gerald’s Game has made its way to film in the hands of a competent director.
No one wants to find themselves in a situation where they’re trapped, and there’s no one there to help them.
It takes me back to when I was three years old. I was hiding in one of those big plastic storage bins with the lid on when it closed by itself (or someone closed it, but my mom was the only one in the house, and she was taking a nap in the bedroom.) The moment it snapped shut, my little brain panicked, and I started screaming and kicking until my mom heard me and came to get me out of the box. Imagine if she wasn’t there or didn’t hear my screaming.
That’s what this movie reminds me of, and as I watched Jessie struggling to get out of the handcuffs after her cries for help did nothing, I felt a knot in my chest. I can’t imagine what I would have done in her situation, and I hope never to find out.
This one is going to stick with me for a long time, and I’m so glad to live in the Stephen King Renaissance.
Gerald’s Game gets a “Fuck yeah”.