Gerald's Game movie review: Netflix's adaptation of Stephen King's is a layered spookfest
I had no idea what Gerald’s Game was about, except for the fact that it was based on a Stephen King story. I also had no idea that it was directed by Mike Flanagan, the talented filmmaker behind Oculus and Hush. So the process of ‘discovery’ in Gerald’s Game was, quite frankly, awesome for a horror fan like me. This is another remarkable addition to Netflix’s original programming catalogue — strange, scary, funny, and at times even weirdly comforting.
The setup, like in most Flanagan movies, is deceptively simple. A couple (Bruce Greenwood as Gerald and Carla Gugino as his wife Jesse) head over to the countryside to enjoy a quiet getaway in a wood side cabin. Any other substandard horror film would have introduced some noises in the night and a lame ghost in the walls of the house, but this one is different. This is a Stephen King story, so there’s bound to be something unexpected.
We first get to know that the couple isn’t on an innocent relaxing holiday, but on a dirty weekend with handcuffs. We then get to know that Gerald, who looks like a nice family man, may be hiding something darker inside him. What happens next is best left for you to discover; all you need to know is to get your popcorn ready for what seems like a beautiful onslaught of messed up occurrences. And if you’ve seen the terrific Brian De Palma film Misery (another King adaptation), think of Gerald’s Game as a subversion of that film.
The film works so well because Flanagan and his co-writer Jeff Howard pack in the original story’s many surprises in an extremely tight lid, peeling away the layers slowly over time, teasing you to get to the bottom of the mystery. We follow the story through Gugino’s Jesse who is more or less trapped in the house in the worst possible nightmare you could imagine. Staying with her character throughout the film not just creates a sense of suffocating claustrophobia but also the anticipation and dread of what fresh hell awaits her when the sun goes down. Not knowing what lies in the shadow is creepy enough, but even the revelation of said element is treated with smart twists — again something above the generic standards of horror film reveals.
The other way the film succeeds is the tone. There are a ton of things at play in the film’s short run time — Gerald’s secrets, Jesse’s secrets, the secrets in the house, dead people coming back to life and breaking the fourth wall, a potential visitor at night and even the dog of an unknown owner who may or may not be up to no good. But all this is somehow uniformly distributed; one plot thread balanced perfectly well over the other; and the minimalist setup of the film being largely set in one room makes it all work. There’s a soothing peculiarity to the whole film, making it seem like an effed up fairy tale of sorts. And it’s all anchored by the tremendous performance of Gugino who holds the film on her shoulders alone with a very complex character.
As far as entertaining horror thrillers go, Gerald’s Game is a huge recommendation. It seems like this is the year of Stephen King with (the otherwise dull) Dark Tower, Gerald’s Game and 1922 which has already received good reviews and is coming on 22 October on Netflix. The real world is messed up enough right now to make King’s stories about monsters feel comforting.