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Gerald's Game (Fantastic Fest Review)

Gerald's Game (Fantastic Fest Review)
09.28.2017by: Eric Walkuski
9 10

PLOT: A husband and wife's plan to spice up their marriage by handcuffing her to the bed goes horribly awry when he dies of a heart attack, leaving her chained up with no help in sight.

REVIEW: On the surface, the plot of GERALD'S GAME seems like something that could be made in a cheap and tawdry way. Plenty of horror storytellers could craft this simple log-line: A woman is chained to a bed in an isolated cabin with only a hungry dog, and possibly a ghoul, to keep her company. But this isn't just any storyteller, this is Stephen King, and into this straight-forward premise he weaves some powerful (and disturbing) themes about marriage, psychological abuse, and how the secrets of the past can keep us handcuffed in the present. Like the best of the writer's work, the tale works on two levels: On top is the severe visceral horror of the ideas and images King is so good at freaking us out with, and underneath there are story threads and truths that almost anyone can relate to.

The aforementioned woman in peril is Jessie Burlingame (Carla Gugino), timid wife to Gerald (Bruce Greenwood). The two have been married over ten years and things have gotten a bit stale, in a general sense but predominantly in the bedroom. Gerald and Jessie have driven to their secluded house in the Alabama woods for some R&R and to work through their most symbolic problem. Jessie has brought her sexy new nightgown, Gerald has brought his Viagra... and handcuffs. Things start off well, but Gerald likes this game a little too much and goes all-in on a creepy rape fantasy that quickly disgusts Jessie. Typical of Gerald, he is ready to lay the blame on her, but doesn't have time to be the biggest prick he can be before he grips his chest in anguish and dies right atop Jessie.

Geralds Game movie review Carla Gugino Bruce Greenwood Stephen King

Clearly, this is a bad situation. Not only does Jessie have to deal with the fact that her husband was in the midst of nearly raping her; he has died, and though he was far from the best husband, her grief is instant. Furthermore, and more pressingly, Jessie is now chained to a bed with absolutely no way to get out. She has no food, no reachable cell phone, no neighbors, no one to help at all. She isn't entirely alone, however: A hungry dog has found its way into the house and has its eyes on Gerald... and maybe Jessie herself. If there's any possible chance to survive this nightmare, Jessie will not only have to think fast and use what little resources she has near her, she'll also have to come to terms with terrible truths from her past that have been hidden deep within her memory banks.

Directed by Mike Flanagan (OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL, HUSH), GERALD'S GAME holds us in a ferocious grip throughout Jessie's entire ordeal. Flanagan stages the scenario brilliantly; when your material is confined almost entirely to a single room, you've got to be creative, and Flanagan is definitely that. We're thrust into Jessie's mind as she contemplates the situation, and two warring sides of her thought-process come to life in front of her: One is a stronger, more insistent version of herself, the other is Gerald, the patronizing voice of self-doubt. Before we know it, the film has three characters (not including dead Gerald), and their arguments are compelling and intelligent to say the least.

Actually, there's a fourth character lurking about. That first night, Jessie spies a hideous phantom in the corner of the room; a grinning, deformed creep with a bag full of bones and jewels. Is this a trick of the light, a product of Jessie's frightened imagination? Or did things go from very bad to much worse with the introduction of a monster who intends on making Jessie's previous problems look like a cakewalk?

There are more realistic horrors within GERALD'S GAME as well, those coming from Jessie's relationship with her father when she was a child. These passages are among the most unnerving in the film; Flanagan handles them very well even as what we're witnessing is repugnant. Safe to say that GERALD'S GAME never lets us off the hook; if it's not horror movie monsters we're forced to deal with, it's very real ones. Another Stephen King specialty. What is impressive is how classically entertaining this movie is, even while its deeply unsettling material threatens to repel us.

Geralds Game movie review Carla Gugino Bruce Greenwood Stephen King

It must be said that Gugino and Greenwood are both great; their characters' dynamic is fascinating, alternating between caustic, supportive, vengeful. Both are clearly vulnerable, she in her nightgown and handcuffs, he only wearing boxers, and that vulnerability somehow makes their interactions all the more riveting. If there was any justice in the world, both would receive Oscar nominations, but I'm guessing that won't happen. Regardless, their fine acting continues a nice recent streak of magnificent performances in Stephen King movies, including the kids from IT and Thomas Jane's fierce role in 1922. (Hell, I'll go to bat for Idris Elba in THE DARK TOWER too.)

GERALD'S GAME isn't a thing of perfection. There's an extended epilogue that halts the incredible momentum that had been built up. To go too far into it would be spoilery, but it doesn't gel with the rest of the film. I know why this epilogue is there, and on a certain level it is necessary for the audience, but there's no denying that GERALD'S GAME - on purely cinematic terms - doesn't stick the landing.

Clumsy conclusion aside, GERALD'S GAME is a masterfully crafted thriller, boasting two terrific performances and at least one sequence that is so harrowing it's a cinch to become an instant classic. (You'll definitely know it when you see it.) It handles horror of every shape and form skillfully.

Extra Tidbit: GERALD'S GAME premieres on Netflix September 29th

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