Gerald’s Game (2017)

  • Time: 103 min
  • Genre: Horror | Thriller
  • Director: Mike Flanagan
  • Cast: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Henry Thomas, Carel Struycken


When a harmless game between a married couple in a remote retreat suddenly becomes a harrowing fight for survival, wife Jessie must confront long-buried demons within her own mind – and possibly lurking in the shadows of her seemingly empty house.


  • Stephen King has been having quite the year, what with the box-office success of It and the high profile (though commercially underperforming) release of The Dark Tower. Now along comes Netflix’s excellent adaptation of Gerald’s Game, which is one of King’s more atypical works. Both a physical and emotional survival story, it features a stellar Carla Gugino as Jessie, who is forced to confront monsters of a very human sort.

    When the film begins, Jessie and her husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) are on their way to a remote cottage for a weekend in order to rekindle the flame that seems to have gone out of their marriage. Gerald tries to engage his wife into some kinky sexual games, handcuffing her to the bedposts and proceeding to enact a rape fantasy. Jessie is clearly uncomfortable with the role playing and, as she and Gerald argue about whether or not to continue, he drops dead of a heart attack. And so Jessie is left chained to the bed, the keys to the handcuffs out of reach, screaming for help where no one for miles and miles and miles can hear her, fending off a starving stray dog biting off chunks of Gerald’s flesh, being visited by a phantom figure bearing a bag full of bones, and trying to figure out a way to keep alive without going insane.

    Insanity is a very real fear, especially since she begins talking with hallucinated versions of Gerald and herself, with the latter keeping her in focus and bolstering her confidence and the latter taunting her with a particular childhood trauma. Though Jessie’s present-day situation might be the main event for those seeking some Kingsian kicks, the more unsettling moments of the film are found in the flashbacks as Jessie’s abuse at the hands of her father Tom. Chiara Aurelia as the young Jessie and Henry Thomas as her father handle their scenes with care and mastery. One feels the bewilderment that overtakes Jessie as her father masturbates behind her as they watch the solar eclipse. Even more wrenching is the scene where her father has her so convinced not to tell her mother that Jessie is the one desperately pleading with him to keep what happened a secret.

    Director Mike Flanagan maintains the tension throughout and, considering what a strictly interior work the source novel is, he and co-writer Jeff Howard do a highly commendable job of pulling off the trickier aspects of the narrative. Nevertheless, some of their attempts at drawing out the female empowerment aspect of the story come off as heavy-handed and a touch too simplified. This, however, doesn’t negate Flanagan’s skill at crafting subtle and highly effective moments and Gugino’s powerful and nuanced portrayal of a woman who is stronger than even she dares to believe.

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  • Gerald’s Game (Recommended)

    It’s best to have a safe word when playing sex games, but no such warning helps our female victim in Gerald’s Game, a taut psychological thriller that, while mostly faithful to Stephen King’s novel, also retains some of its narrative pitfalls.

    A couple tries to save their marriage with a little steamy S & M peccadillos and wind up in a life-or-death scenario. Jessie (Carla Gugino), handcuffed to the bedposts, watches helplessly as her husband, Gerald (Bruce Greenwood), meets his untimely demise.  Left to her own wiles to free herself (both physically and mentally) from her dilemma or die, she must shake of her demons to survive.

    Mike Flanagan (Hush) directs with adroit skill and is definitely a talent to watch. He has co- written the screenplay (with Jeff Howard) made an film with a flair for creativity and a serious view of today’s modern relationships. He keeps the suspense at a high rate and focuses on Jessie’s frightening situation in the most realistic of terms. There is no intrusive musical soundtrack, quick cuts, or jarring sound effects to heighten the film’s atmospheric mood. Instead he relies on the strong chemistry of its lead actors to provide the tension and a circumstance that could be plausible. He cast his film wisely.

    Ms. Gugino gives her best performance by far and she keeps the film riveting with her bravura interpretation of a woman coming to terms with her life and refusing to be its victim once again. She also plays a more sanitized version of her complex character, an angelic conscience to Mr. greenwood’s cunning devil. The actor is riveting as her dead husband and he plays off her vulnerability with a vengeance, literally. (He also is remarkable fit for a man in his sixties…kudos!)

    As the film progresses and Jessie becomes more desperate and unhinged, she begins seeing things that may be real or imagined. This is where the film begins to loses some of its logic, especially in its polarizing ending and heavy-handed use of symbolism (handcuffs / wedding ring, eclipse / ”red” hot erotica, all males as predators theme, etc.) Its flashback sequences, with as a young and Henry Thomas as her questionable father, though well played, do intercut the tension while explaining some exposition and backstories of its characters. But whenever the film remains locked in its one-set bedroom, the film resonates.

    More psychological thriller than horror film, although there are some bloody and grisly moments, Gerald Games, has more to say about sexual abuse, women’s objectification, and dysfunctional marriage than most films of this genre. Oh, the games people play. GRADE: B

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