Saturday, October 07, 2017

Gerald's Game (2017)

One of my least favourite Stephen King books makes a pretty great film, thanks to the two leads and director Mike Flanagan (of Hush, Oculus, and Ouija: Origin of Evil fame). He's been a fan of the book for a long time, and it shows.

I always thought the premise of this story had such great potential, but found the book overly self-indulgent and too plodding in pace. Adapted into a film with some necessary tweaks, this plays like the frightening, disturbing tale it always should have been.

Jessie (Carla Gugino, who is amazing in this) is away for the weekend at a remote cabin with her husband, and when he wants to use real handcuffs to restrain her during sex, this begins an episode of multi-leveled trauma for Jessie which she must overcome if she stands any chance of making it out alive. 

Just for starters, husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood, thoroughly charismatic and unpleasant here) seems to want to instigate a non-consensual rape fantasy, then shortly afterwards suffers a fatal heart attack, leaving Jessie helpless with the house wide open to whomever/whatever wants to come inside.

Stand-out quote from repulsive character Gerald (paraphrased): "A vulnerable woman is like an open door." Utterly disgusting and disturbing, and cuts right to the true heart of the man Jessie married.

Stand out Gerald moment: When Jessie's imagined Gerald absentmindedly licks his lips and takes one of the accumulating flies into his mouth without missing a beat. Such a tiny detail but perfectly unsettling.

While the idea of being cuffed to a bed with no one to help you is scary enough, all of the plot drive of Gerald's Game comes from Jessie having to finally face the abuse she suffered from her father when she was a pre-teen - and a lifetime of repression and poor decisions following this abuse. There are two instances in this film that make you feel sick, and the flashbacks to young Jessie with her father is one of them.

The blood-red light of a solar eclipse washes over this moment.

The film is shot almost romantically, at times. Certainly in the beginning the dreamy quality of the lighting and cinematography is such that it almost appears to be in soft focus. This was the first thing I noticed when I watched the trailer, and I found it an interesting and commendable choice, given the themes of the story. It's far from a new approach, but presenting horror in a visually non-horrific way just makes it seem so much more frightening, no?

Gerald's Game in fact gives us a range of different horrors; from the gut-wrenchingly sad abuse, to the pure terror of feeling a presence in the room with you, just out of sight in the shadows - I'd actually forgotten about the "Space Cowboy" aspect of the story, which I found to be the most frightening parts of the book and they have DEFINITELY been translated successfully to film - and finally, Jessie's visceral final fight for survival.

There is lots to love about this adaptation, and much to keep you awake in the dark. Highly recommended - catch it on Netflix now.

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