Watch GERALD'S GAME on Netflix here:
A sex-craving husband makes plans to whisk you away to a holiday home in the middle of nowhere. The finest foods are stocked in the fridge, fine wine and expensive champagne are cooly placed on the shelves and the entire house is pristine and clean. All that is required now is for both people involved to muster up enough drive to enjoy each other. Unfortunately, Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) wants to impose a rape fantasy onto his wife Jessie (Carla Gugino) and to his dismay, she is not into it at all. She's handcuffed to the bed and the key is far from within reach. After her request to end the charade, a verbal fight ensues. His lack of compassion is questionable, but then he receives his own comeuppance in the form of a heart attack. Did he take too much Viagra perhaps? But the bigger question remains: how is Jess going to get out of those handcuffs now that her husband has keiled over and died on the floor? And if you think hard about what those handcuffs ultimately represent as the story transpires, this is one of the more emotionally resonant horror films of the past couple of years.
Upon first hearing that Mike Flanagan was going to adapt Stephen King, it's hard not to feel giddy. His care and precision for both storytelling and character is one all horror directors should aspire to. Flanagan is one of our very best modern horror filmmakers stemming all the way back to his debut ABSENTIA. Not only does he create dread and atmosphere with the best of them, but his editing techniques within confined spaces or his playfulness with time and narrative is often quite astonishing. In OCULUS, the central mystery of the mirror was beautifully handled with seamless cuts between the past and present. In his yet-to-be-released near-masterpiece BEFORE I WAKE, the juxtaposition between reality and dream-states were unlike anything I've seen before. One can argue that his foray into sequel territory with OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL was a director-for-hire gig, but he still made it his own despite screenplay issues. Therefore, I am on board for all-things this director does. If Flanagan were to make a career out of adapting Stephen King, I would be all for it since it is a match made in heaven as represented throughout here.
There was a certain wonder about how he would pull off the final act of this film, having read the source material. I remember going from nail-biting claustrophobic tension to a sudden shift that was less than satisfying. A jarring transition that I won't spoil, of course, leaves something to be desired both on the page and on the screen. Flanagan's strengths are relegated to a faithfulness to the book that hurts the impact of the final act. It may lead to a character triumph of sorts but there is implausibility that cannot be overcome during a moment of confrontation. But everything that comes before the final ten minutes is incredibly great. This is a showcase for two great character actors and here we get some of their best work to date. It's clear that Flanagan is also an actor's director, having done pretty stellar work with his own wife in HUSH, and now we have Carla Gugino giving it her all consistently. Moments of revelation and a manifestation of her internal psyche really make you grab your seat in panic at times. There's a moment here I am positive you will never forget and her bravery and realism in this moment is part of the pleasure it has to offer, even if you want to look away. Once again, we do get signature Flanagan quick edits that have a pulse of their own. You often can't tell when the cut happens in such a small space. One minute a character is sitting by the bedside, and a millisecond later, that same character is standing by the window. If I were to teach a class on great horror movie editing, there are countless examples throughout Flanagan's filmography that I would include, and many are here in GERALD'S GAME.
If only it had stuck the landing and didn't falter so severely in its final minutes. But at the same time, I think Flanagan wanted to be as faithful as possible to King's text. There are few instances of a film improving on the book, but I was hoping for some kind of revision that could rectify the clumsiness that transpires. Still, this is a fantastic showcase for both director and actor(s) staying emotionally true to the book, and working surprisingly well with a limited visual landscape. There's a backstory that might be elaborated on a bit too much to provide context for Jess, and yet it leads to the above-mentioned revelation that is extremely well-executed. Not to mention the catharsis that takes place as a result. Far from a perfect film, this is another great entry into Flanagan's impeccable filmography to where every time one of his films ends, I cannot wait for the next one. B