★★★★ out of ★★★★★
Crafting one of Stephen King’s #1 Best Sellers into a gritty tale of survival.
Jessie (Carla Gugino) and Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) take a vacation to a remote lake house in an attempt to spice up and save their marriage. A BDSM role-play experiment goes wrong, and Gerald dies of a heart attack, leaving Jessie still handcuffed to the bedposts. He really should have read those viagra heart warnings! Jessie now is in a horrible survival predicament, as she not only has to figure out how to free herself, but also battles her own past psychological traumas, and a hungry stray dog.
I will admit that I have not read the book, but this resonates as one of King’s most intimate tales. So with the caveat that I won’t be able to compare it to the book, the story is one that gets right into the heart of the drama immediately, in media res. All of the information I’ve given in the first paragraph happens is set up in the first fifteen minutes of the movie, so it isn’t exactly spoiling the movie to present the context. This really feels like a stage drama, as for the most part, it’s Jessie center stage, and visited upon by visions of herself and Gerald who play the role of her psyche trying to puzzle her way out of the conundrum.
Carla Gugino gives a tour-de-force performance, and it’s heartfelt. Bruce Greenwood is also really effective, and there is great chemistry between these two actors. I really liked the way that Jessie’s tactics are suggested at by her visions, which allows us to follow some bread crumbs and think along with her. The movie reminds me a lot of the James Franco film 127 Hours, with all the isolation, desperation, and hope/hopelessness of the plight. The looming presence of the dog is truly frightening and reinforces the immediacy of the situation. (A sly Cujo reference, of course, had to be included!)
For 3/4 of the movie, the plot is tight, and the story moves with a cunning logic. However, there is a bit of an unraveling of the plot towards the end, as a somewhat unnecessary supernatural piece gets plugged into the plot, and it led to an awkward and unsatisfying part of the conclusion. I would be curious to know if those elements were included in King’s book or not.
Overall, though, the movie is genuinely scary at times, and it lives up to my number one consideration to quality horror movies: I really cared about the protagonist. You really want to see Jessie get out of those cuffs, and your belief as to whether she’s going to make it or not waxes and wanes throughout the film, which is a testament to the direction by Mike Flanagan. The cinematography is gorgeous and very clean. However, after having just seen a total eclipse, the depictions of an eclipse in this film were distractingly off of what a real eclipse looks like. It’s not a red sunset! (Yes, that’s a nitpick…)
Gerald’s Game is available free on Netflix. Watch it for Gugino’s performance alone, it’s worth it.