Mike Flanagan is one of the best directors working in film today. His list of genre offerings have been impressive, not just because the movies have been great, but because he knows how to build a damn good narrative. Flanagan has consistently impressed me, and with “Gerald’s Game” he delivers a stellar horror drama from the works of Stephen King. Even the best directors have fallen under the weight of the difficult to adapt King tales, but “Gerald’s Game” manages to be an unnerving and complex dramatic thriller that is focused on character and the sometimes weird coincidences of life and fate.
“Gerald’s Game” is a character based piece that focuses on Gerald and Jessie, a middle aged married couple that finds their relationship in a slump. After years of being together, the pair borrows a house in the middle of the woods from their friends and hope for a spicy weekend getaway. Gerald is a fit older man who wants to re-invent his love life with wife Jessie, and the two are nervous but hopeful. After some awkward preparation, Gerald begins unfolding his fantasies for Jessie, hand cuffing her to the bed post, and indulging in a rough scenario. After she bulks at his methods, Gerald suddenly gets a heart attack and collapses at the foot of the bed.
Now confined to the bed posts, Jessie has to figure out how to break free before she starves to death. The scenario triggers something of a mental breakdown within Jessie, as she begins to confront her inner turmoil with Gerald, all the while flashing back to a life that she was never aware affected every iota of her adulthood, right down to her failing marriage. “Gerald’s Game” relies a lot on the pair of performers, and Bruce Greenwood and Carla Gugino are thankfully up to the task. Their performances are stellar, with Carla Gugino delivering one of the best emotional turns of her career. As a character she’s not so much a protagonist, as she is a flawed human being who has done a lot in her life that’s made her both someone to pity and dislike. By sheer happenstance, her mental break allows her to find a way to overcome certain stumbling blocks in her life.
All the while she’s forced to come to grips with why her marriage failed, and why she may spend the rest of her life recovering. Greenwood and Gugino allow for a wonderful chemistry, while Gugino perfectly conveys the scenario of a woman slowly going mad, as she struggles to look for an exit in a seemingly impossible situation. Along the way there are her confrontations with a very hungry dog, and her experiences with a seemingly dark specter visiting her every night. What progresses is an enlightened and absolutely compelling dramatic horror film that examines the concept of the world destroying innocence (you’ll never look at Henry Thomas the same again), the senselessness of violence, and endless cycle of self sabotage that can follow the victimized. Director Flanagan pulls off another remarkable horror entry as “Gerald’s Game” is a thought provoking and eerie film, one that King fans owe it to themselves to watch.
Now available on Netflix.