MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Gerald’s Game’ is an unflinchingly ferocious adrenaline rush of the most elegant kind

Thanks to Mike Flanagan's spectacular direction and an Oscar-worthy performance from Carla Gugino, this Netflix original thriller is one of the best of the year

| October 1, 2017

Netflix has done its hardest to win me over and finally, I can say it: they have. I still have issues with their marketing strategy, but their content is becoming too top-notch to ignore. Mike Flanagan, director of other masterful films such as “Oculus,” “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” “Hush” and the still unreleased (at least in the U.S.) “Before I Wake” To many, Flanagan is the new face of modern horror, a title I find it hard to argue with. Thanks to a reserved hand that turns even the most out-there of scares into elegant art pieces, while also keeping the films at hand terrifying, Flanagan has a way of crafting horror in a way that the genre hasn’t seen since the early days of Wes Craven. Now, Flanagan has returned to Netflix for possibly his most ambitious project, yet: adapting Stephen King’s “Gerald’s Game.”

Jessie Burlingame (Carla Gugino) and her husband, Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) are a married couple who travel from New Orleans to a lake in Alabama for a weekend to spice up their marriage. When the couple inevitably makes it into the bedroom to revitalize their sex life, Gerald suggests handcuffing Jessie to the bed for sexual kicks, to which she agrees. Just as things begin to heat up, Jessie begins to feel doubts about the handcuffs and the situation Gerald is creating, but before she can truly let her feelings out, Gerald suffers a heart attack and dies before Jessie’s eyes. Now, alone in a secluded cabin, Jessie must muster the strength and intellect to find a way to free herself from the handcuffs before she too dies of dehydration. During this time, Jessie must confront the voices in her head and the demons from her past to truly find freedom from these shackles.

To make a long review short, “Gerald’s Game” is absolutely fantastic in nearly every way. This is a film very different from other films that Flanagan has done, but each film in Flanagan’s repertoire is a completely different experience in itself, creating an exciting experience each time he comes out with a new film, as you never know what to expect other than expertise behind the camera. “Gerald’s Game” is Flanagan both at his most elegant and his most minimalistic, creating an almost unbearably tense and claustrophobic atmosphere unlike any other film I’ve seen this year.

Gugino, in all seriousness, deserves serious Oscar consideration for her work as Jessie in the film. The physical dedication she put into the role, as well as the emotional range both her, and her mental image of herself’s characters are so incredibly varied and heartbreakingly effective that I’m not sure I’ve come across a performance this year quite as viscerally moving. This is a performance along the lines of that of Sandra Bullock in “Gravity” and James Franco in “127 Hours” (and not just because her hand is caught in a place she can’t move from). Greenwood is also at a career high in the film as well, creating a multi-faceted character that is both magnetic and repulsive all at the same time. Greenwood has a real “cool step-dad” vibe about him and for the character of Gerald, that’s exactly the type of tone that’s needed for a film like this, and when his dark side begins to come in, it’s one of Greenwood’s best performances to date.

Shot by Flanagan’s usual cinematographer and edited by Flanagan himself, “Gerald’s Game” is one classy looking movie. Never does the film feel exploitative or even like a genre film of any kind. If anything, this film feels like a prestige drama that just so happens to turn into a thriller by accident. Bathed in golden hues and with long, slow shots, this film feels far too masterful for a genre film to feel. Even with some of the better horror films of the past few years, most of them still feel very much so like horror films, with a certain style and ferocity that evokes exactly what horror is about, but with “Gerald’s Game,” this is a much cleaner, beautiful film that really creates a dichotomy of tones that makes the film much more uneasy feeling.

Not only is the film thrilling, but it’s an emotionally moving picture as well. Exploring Jessie’s past trauma of abuse at the hands of her father (Henry Thomas), as well as the marital issues that her and Gerald suffered, this film focuses just as much on the characters as it does on the thrills at hand. “Gerald’s Game” wonderfully and respectfully covers the effects of abuse years down the line and the mental shackles that restrain a person from them, and how physical shackles can bring out the pain of what’s not there as opposed to the physical pain Jessie finds herself in. Obviously, the film doesn’t shy away from talk of sexual abuse, though it doesn’t depict it in action, so a mild trigger warning for sexual assault might be in order.

But now, for a major trigger warning…if you can call this a trigger warning. “Gerald’s Game” features one of the most visceral, ferocious, draining bit of gore I’ve seen in a film in years. When I found out what was going to happen, I found myself under my sheets, eyes closed, ears covers, screaming just to blot any major view of the violent act out of my mind. This is a scene that makes me almost glad that this film is a Netflix original and not a theatrical release, because this is the type of film that requires you to take a small break, pause the film and center yourself before continuing on. A film like this doesn’t come around often, and it’s daring scenes like this one that keep them in your brain forever.

“Gerald’s Game” is one of, if not the best thriller I’ve seen this year. It’s a wonderful look not only at the brutal resiliency of the human spirit, but the emotional strength it takes not only to escape dangerous situations, but the memories that follow you forever. Thanks to incredibly elegant direction and a world-class performance from Gugino, this is quite possibly the best film this year that I never want to watch again. It’s unfortunate that the Academy often refuses to recognize genre films and Netflix originals, because “Gerald’s Game” has some real contenders in its midst. Aside from the film being unbearably tense and wonderfully crafted, the film also is a beautifully restrained, but incredibly poignant look at the power of memories to our existence and how even our trauma can become out strength. It’s feels entirely unlike Gugino, Flanagan and King for that matter, and I think that’s why “Gerald’s Game” works so viscerally well.

4.5/5

Photo courtesy of Netflix

Directed by: Mike Flanagan
Starring: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Henry Thomas, Chiara Aurelia, Kate Siegel and Carel Struycken.
Runtime: 103 minutes
Rating: Not rated
Now streaming on Netflix.

Netflix presents, a Netflix original film, an Intrepid Pictures production, a Mike Flanagan film, “Gerald’s Game”

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Category:Arts and Entertainment, Film

Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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