Wednesday, October 18, 2017

31 Days of Horror: Gerald's Game

Directed by Mike Flanagan.
2017. Rated R, 103 minutes.
Cast:
Carla Gugino
Bruce Greenwood

Jess (Gugino) and her husband Gerald (Greenwood) are a couple who have reached a point where they think becoming more adventurous in the bedroom is the cure for what ails their relationship. At Gerald's urging, they go up to a cabin they earn for a weekend of carnal pleasures. What makes this weekend different than any other is that Jess has agreed to get her fifty shades on and try some kinky stuff. It starts with Gerald handcuffing her to the bed. However, this quickly spirals out of control as Gerald starts diving into a disturbing rape fantasy. An argument breaks out when Jess puts the brakes on her hubby's fun. In the middle of their bickering, Gerald suffers a heart attack and falls over dead. Yes, Jess is still handcuffed to the bed. Along with trying to figure a way out of her predicament, every dreadful moment of Jess's life bubbles to the surface for her to deal with.

This is a horror flick having much in common with 2010's 127 Hours. It's a about a person physically trapped, isolated, and forced to deal with themselves on a level more intimate than they ever have. In Jess's case that means dredging up painful memories from her childhood and earlier in her marriage. The manifestation of this process are two visions she has. The first is of her husband. At first, he taunts her as she tries in vain to escape, then berates her about various aspects of their life together. The second is of herself, forcing her to open long-locked corridors of her memory. In the dual role, Carla Gugino shines, playing both perfectly. As the actual person, we feel her fear, anger, anxiousness, and frustration. As the imaginary Jess, she casts an ominous shadow over the proceedings. Every sentence she speaks threatens to send us down an ever-darkening path. And she does this without raising her voice. The one who gets to do most of the yelling is Bruce Greenwood as Gerald. Still, it never seems to come from an emotional outburst. Instead, it stems from his character's sense of superiority. It's the type of arrogance that's been growing for years and now feels justified to talk down at his wife for being an inferior entity.

These two outstanding performances keep us interested in the fate of our heroine. We're falling down the various rabbit holes right along with Jess, simultaneously intrigued and apprehensive about where they might lead us. Meanwhile, the present danger to her mortality keeps us aware on two fronts. No matter what part of her past we're exploring, we never feel she's just sitting safely in bed. The stakes are high and real. As she is reliving the most painful parts of her life, she's also trying to think through her physical situation. We're doing the same, at the same time. We're trying to think of what she might have missed, what she could possibly do to free herself. The process gets us actively involved in the film. Jess's pain and plight become ours.


We stay with Jess all the way through her ordeal. The problem is the movie goes too far beyond this. After a harrowing ninety to ninety-five minutes of effectively showing us what this woman is going through the film should end. Instead, it tacks on five or ten minutes of telling us a bunch of unnecessary stuff that only serves to undermine everything that came before this. Note the words I used. The good parts of the movie "shows" us things, while the bad parts "tell" us. The telling parts comes off as didactic and unwilling to trust its audience. One of the biggest mistakes is that it explains a character that really would have been served left to our imagination. Telling us exactly what's going on with this character robs him of any mystery and diminishes his power. I haven't read the Stephen King novel this film is based on, but it feels like the filmmaker either trying to remain as loyal as possible to the source material, or worse, adding his own flourish. Knowing director Mike Flanagan from his films Hush and Oculus, I'm guessing it's the former. He knows how to end a film. With this one, it would have been a good idea to take poetic license and trim all the fat off the end.

With it fully intact, as it is, Gerald's Game is still a very good film. It draws us in, holds us tight and wrings every drop of sympathy and empathy from us for most of its runtime. The performances are top-notch, particularly for the genre, and help foster the sadness needed to make the movie work. Unfortunately, it just goes on too long. All of the angst we build up, and that's a good deal, gets flushed in a sea of logic. We're as disappointed as Dorothy at the very instant she found out the Wizard was just an ordinary man behind a curtain. Sure, he tells us to click our heels three times, we do, and we get home. It just would've been better had he maintained the illusion.


More movies where people get stranded (nearly) alone: 



18 comments:

  1. I saw this one on my Letterboxd homepage and I was thinking of giving it a try. I haven't read King's novel either, but I've read many of his books and it really seems like Flanagan tried to stay as truthful to the book as possible. It's probably a flaw this time but I'll check it out anyway. Actually, after reading this, I want to see it even more. Great review!

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    1. Thanks for the high praise. It is definitely worth watching.

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  2. I've heard a lot of good things about it. Notably for its simple presence as I might check it out.

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    1. There is a lot of good there. I'm certainly recommending it.

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  3. This does sound quite good and I always liked Bruce Greenwood. I was looking at the bed post to see how she could break free

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    1. She most certainly explores that option. It's streaming on Netflix, by the way.

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  4. Seeing her handcuffed to the bed immediately turned me off of the film because that freaks me out. But knowing it's not exploitative, I think I may check this out. Especially if you enjoyed it.

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    1. It's not at all what it looks like from most still shots, which is a Fifty Shades rip-off. Thank goodness. I think you'll enjoy it.

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  5. I read this novel many years ago. My first thought, when I heard about this movie, is that the story was basically unadaptable to film. But your comparison to 127 Hours makes sense.

    I'll probably watch this based on your recommendation.

    I wonder if this movie will do to light BDSM what Psycho did for showers. I can imagine handcuff sales plummeting as we speak.

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    1. It's been adapted pretty well. I think you'll enjoy it. No idea of its affect on handcuff sales, though, lol.

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    2. If it's on Netflix, maybe I'll watch it tonight.:-)

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    3. It is on Netflix. That's where I watched it.

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    4. Wow, what a terrific movie! The performances were amazing. And it really did justice to the book, which has stuck in my memory for over 20 years.

      Your review is spot-on. The last part of the movie is definitely the weakest. We didn't need to have Jess's experience explained to us, and giving us a backstory and a tangible form for the Moonlight Man ruined that part of the story. (It's the mystery and ambiguity that made him scary.) I appreciate the fact that it was meant to support the theme of her facing her fears and realizing they seem smaller now. But I wish it had been handled differently.

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    5. Exactly. I appreciate what that part of the story was supposed to symbolize, but not how it did it.

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  6. Great review, bud. I have this to watch alongside The Dark Tower and 1922 when I can get my hands on them. King has really made a mark in 2017, hasn't he?! Great stuff!

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    1. He's been all over the place this year. However, I still need to see those other movies plus It.

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  7. I've been hearing good things about this, and your review is the final push I need to check it out. Great work!

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    1. Cool! Can't wait for your thoughts on it.

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