Starring: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Carel Struycken
Director: Mike Flanagan
Running Time: 103 mins
Gerald’s Game is an American film about a woman who finds herself handcuffed to a bed alone in an isolated house after her husband’s sex game went wrong.
This is a remarkably intense film, managing to create hypnotic thrills and harrowing drama in such a small environment, thanks to incredibly atmospheric directing from Mike Flanagan, a powerhouse performance from Carla Gugino, and an absolutely enthralling story that almost never puts a foot wrong, all of which comes together to make a spellbindingly terrifying but utterly unforgettable watch.
There’s so much to praise about Gerald’s Game, but I think what first deserves praising is Mike Flanagan’s directing. Survival thrillers are notoriously difficult to get exactly right, but Flanagan does as good a job as I’ve seen in any of the genre’s most notable movies.
Almost the entire film plays out watching Carla Gugino handcuffed to the bed, but in that tiny physical environment, it’s exceptional what the film manages to achieve. Flanagan paces the story perfectly throughout, allowing it to be an intense and physically exhausting thriller as we see Gugino attempt to escape her predicament through an achingly slow and frustrating process of trial and error and sheer psychological exhaustion, and yet still keeps you on the edge of your seat with every excruciating twist and turn that the story takes.
What’s more is that the film has a powerfully eerie feel to it that really adds to its emotional impact. The film’s setting at times feels comparable to Hush, a home invasion thriller set in the woods (and also directed by Flanagan), but what Gerald’s Game does even better is reinforce that sense of isolation through its deliberate lack of a musical score, as well as the use of a pitch-perfect setting.
The lack of music throughout is unnerving enough, particularly in the film’s early phase in which Bruce Greenwood and Carla Gugino have a series of incredibly intimidating conversations, but the way that the room in which the story plays out is set up is the icing on the cake. Stuck in the middle of a big double bed, Gugino already appears even smaller and less powerful, but it’s the fact that the room feels so barren and lifeless at times, with its secluded positioning in the country house between the forest and the seafront, as well as the ghostly flutter of the curtains by the open window over the course of the whole story.
All of that makes Gerald’s Game a truly atmospheric watch, and plays a significant role in the incredible emotional power of its story, which is where the film manages to step up to the next level.
This isn’t just a survival thriller, nor is it just an eerie horror movie, but it’s a film with a really deep emotional and psychological pulse, and one that will captivate you entirely from the word go.
It’s a very difficult film to talk about without any major spoilers, as the main action gets going as quickly as 15 minutes in, however it suffices to say that Stephen King’s story features some truly thrilling and unpredictable twists and turns, all of which allow the film to keep breathing new life into itself despite the fact that it’s physically sitting still from start to finish.
There are times when the film harkens back to the intense horrors of Misery, but to me there seems to be even more to it than that, often delving into some incredibly deep and emotionally harrowing and traumatic themes that will make you want to cover your eyes at times. However, it’s all written sublimely, and you definitely won’t be able to take your eyes off the screen, no matter how hard you try.
Finally, we come to the real stand-out of the entire movie: Carla Gugino. Her performance is as physically impressive as it is emotionally exhilarating, as she excels in showing her character’s extreme exhaustion from being stuck completely alone in this awful situation (something that’s also helped by some really excellent make-up work as well), but she also makes sure that the emotional drama remains the central focus of the film by putting in a very distressed and on-edge performance throughout.
It’s easy at times to get swept up in some of the more gruesome details of the plot, but thanks to Gugino’s captivating performance, the main character’s emotions relating to both her current predicament and her past emotional trauma, both of which play vital roles in the story, is at the very centre of your focus, and allows you to fall ever deeper into the some of the horrors at play in this spellbinding story.
On the whole, I was absolutely blown away by Gerald’s Game. If I were to have one complaint, I’d say that the very last ten minutes or so aren’t quite the ending that the film deserves, but regardless, it’s still an exceptional film, featuring some of the most intense and nail-biting thrills you’ll ever see come out of just one room, as well as powerfully atmospheric directing and an incredible lead performance. It’s not an easy watch by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a film that will grab you immediately and not let you go until the very end, and that’s why I’m giving it an 8.8 overall.