Netflix presents us with the third film adaptation of a Stephen King novel, in the past two months. I didn’t see The Dark Tower but I did see IT (twice) and that was wonderful. This film flew under the radar, until Netflix decided to release a trailer a month ago which caught my attention immediately. It premiered on Netflix this past Friday and I sat down on Saturday night to watch it. Let me get straight to the point here, we have been blessed with two great Stephen King adaptations in the month of September.
This film follows Jessie (Carla Gugino) and Gerald (Bruce Greenwood), a married couple looking to try out some new things in the bedroom in order to spice up their love life. When her husband unexpectedly dies during a sexual game of his, Jessie is left handcuffed to the bed, and comes to the daunting realisation that if she doesn’t find a way to survive and break free, then she will die.
This film takes the familiar formula of having a person stuck in one place needing to find a method to escape. The difference here is that the film keeps you invested and feels very different. A lot of credit goes Stephen King obviously, but I think Jeff Howard and Mike Flanagan deserve a lot of praise for their script. There’s some great surprises throughout and it feels like they captured the essence of the novel. The director of photography Michael Fimognari uses the colour red in a very memorable way, the images he crafts together are bold and beautiful and lingered in my head after the film was over.
Mike Flanagan has once again proved himself to be one of the more consistent horror filmmakers working today, although I would describe this film as mostly a thriller there is a horror element to it which I wasn’t expecting. This aspect felt organic and ended up having a greater importance to the overall narrative. Instead of using jump scares, Mike makes your skin crawl with the use of freakish imagery that is peppered throughout the film at very brief moments. The film is rather suspenseful from the moment the couple get to the bed, right until the last act. Mike uses the circumstances Jessie is in as the foundation to build suspense. It made me think about what I would do in that situation, and the anxiety and claustrophobia I imagined I would be feeling, heightened the effect of the suspense whilst watching the film.
Carla Gugino is superb, the film essentially lives and dies on the quality of her performance. If this performance wasn’t great then, it would certainly limit the overall finished product from being great also. Thankfully she manages to combine being emotionally broken with being strong willed at the same, she does this effortlessly which immediately helps you empathise with her and root for her survival. Without going into too much detail there is another aspect to her performance, in regards to her subconscious that I wasn’t expecting and she provided great balance with that dynamic. Bruce Greenwood gave a very understated yet impactful performance as Jessie’s husband Gerald. His chemistry with Carla was effective. I completely bought into the idea that those two characters were in a strained marriage together, and were desperate to find their spark once again. As with Carla, there’s an element with Bruce’s performance that I can’t really delve into, but I really liked what he did with his character in those moments as well.
The sound design was great, certain sound effects really heightened the experience of the sequences where they are featured. I thought the musical score worked well in conjunction with the film also.
There isn’t even much that I can really criticise the film for, the pace does dip a little towards the end of the second act, and as the third act begins it increases to the point where the pace is almost too quick. Once the third act begins the film seems to reach it’s climax too quickly and whilst I like the ending, I know it may polarise others.
Gerald’s Game is a finely crafted thriller that effectively contains subtle moments of horror. It’s an enthralling experience with great surprises and memorable imagery, lead by a terrific performance from Carla Gugino.
(4 Stars out of 5)
Gerald’s Game; Starring Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood and Henry Thomas.
Directed by Mike Flanagan.
Now Streaming on Netflix.