Gerald’s Game (Fantastic Fest): A Stunning Tale of Survival and Growth

Starring Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Carel Struycken

Directed by Mike Flanagan


THERE ARE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW SO READ AT YOUR OWN PERIL!

Often thought to be unfilmable, Stephen King’s novel Gerald’s Game is a story that is both horrifying but also inspiring. There is a tone to his tale that is notably different from the likes of The Shining, The Mist, Christine, and others in his catalog. While no less horrific at times, there’s a sense of personal growth and elegance that Gerald’s Game offers, which makes it all the more wonderful that Oculus and Hush director Mike Flanagan’s take on the film ends up being something truly special.

A passion project of his for many, many years, Flanagan manages to take a story that should, by all accounts, never work as a film and converts it into an incredibly emotional story that never sacrifices tension or terror.

The basic gist of the story is that Jessie (Carla Gugino) and Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) are married but aren’t happy. They travel to their lake house, where they hope to rekindle their passion and love for one another. During a roleplaying session where Gerald handcuffs Jessie to their bed, he suffers a heart attack and dies, leaving her locked and helpless. It is up to her and her ability to make use of her surroundings in order to survive. As the hours and days pass, her own mind becomes her potential savior… and her worst enemy.

One would think that a film set around a woman handcuffed to a bed wouldn’t work. However, the way that Flanagan and co-writer Jeff Howard weave the story allows for it to be more than capable; it becomes a fascinating journey into Jessie’s mind to find what drives her and makes her the person that she is up to this point in her life. Through a clever mechanism by which Jessie “sees” and “talks” with Gerald and a different, more confident version of herself, we learn about how Jessie herself operates. These aren’t actual manifestations of Gerald and Jessie, they are her own interpretations and projections that grant her differing perspectives that she may not have come to on her own.

These visions not only allow Jessie to face her predicament but also come to terms with previous traumas that ultimately work towards saving her. It’s not quite as on-the-nose as I’m making it out to be, but Jessie’s need to face her past and grow from it is one of the most endearing and satisfying aspects of Gerald’s Game. Her pain is real; her ordeals, both past and present, terrible; and her journey nothing short of celebratory. We bear witness to her ascension in multiple ways, the most important of which is her newfound ability to simply let things go and move on, stronger than ever before.

I know it seems like I’m making Gerald’s Game sound like some inspirational feel-good feature, but that isn’t really the case. It’s certainly part of this film’s formula, but I must also recognize that it’s a damn effective thriller that doesn’t shy away from haunting the viewer with nightmarish hallucinations, gory moments, and grab-you-by-the-throat tension. It’s a film that is designed to make you fear for Jessie’s life; and damn, does it do a good job at that!

It should be noted that there isn’t some climactic ending or shocking twist. Instead, Gerald’s Game poetically takes its time coming to the credits, allowing the viewer to join Jessie as she comes to terms with the events that abruptly changed her life and how she can move forward a new person. This patience only works as a positive, giving viewers the chance to breathe easier and to feel comfortable moving on, the same as Jessie.

Mike Flanagan has become a household horror name for Oculus, Absentia, Hush, and Ouija: Origin of Evil. Now he’ll be known for bringing audiences a powerful, tense, inspiring Stephen King adaptation. If that doesn’t make him one of horror’s brightest names, I don’t know what will.

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Jonathan Barkan

Lifelong horror fan with a love of music on the side.

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