As a service, Netflix is getting absurdly good. Gerald’s Game is terrifically unsettling.
A married couple intent on rekindling their passion get an isolated seaside getaway together for a long weekend. Jessie, a supportive wife, discovers her husband Gerald has quite an excessive imagination for their new sexual exploration. But after she’s handcuffed to the bed posts, Gerald suffers from a heart attack… and dies.
Obviously, Gerald’s Game has an obvious pull; is this Stephen King meets Fifty Shades? That is a massive insult to King, apologies. But the intrigue is there immediately, then it quickly becomes a thriller… how does she escape?
But naturally, there’s a lot more going on under the covers, shall we say. It would be tremendous spoilers if it were explained, but Gerald’s Game becomes so much more than simply kink-infused thrills; it becomes a complex psychological study, taking place from the limitations of a bed.
Despite this, it has several of the classic King tropes in there and while it starts out a little goofy feeling, it quickly reveals this to be deliberate when everything goes very… very wrong. Escalation is the main focus here, the film is quick to tell us as much as Jessie (played by Carla Gugino, seen in Sin City and San Andreas) realizes time is running out. Gugino is excellent, with all focus on her performance and tremendous degrees of female strength as well as vulnerability and raw panic. Bruce Greenwood (2009’s Star Trek and last year’s Gold) plays a man who we never fully understand, an unsettled mix of love and lurking depravity.
But deeper still, the film explores psychological trauma and human anxiety and doubt, born from childhood and unintentionally reared into adulthood as lurking phobias and crippling vulnerabilities. Displaying adulthood as even more vulnerable than childhood at times when these inner demons find themselves manifest and stronger than ever. This is a great character study.
Then of course there’s a healthy dose of toe curling blood and physical unpleasantness that completes the Stephen King ensemble, and it doesn’t disappoint. The film doesn’t necessarily let you know what’s going to happen, but when it does it is more grisly and effective than all of the Saw films put together. All from its simplicity, there’s no jump scares or cheap horror; it is all the premise and the mounting tension.
Is it a flawless film, no. While it does spice up what you are experiencing in clever ways, ultimately you’ve probably figured out the end before it happens, despite some… unusual developments along the way that made me scratch my head a little. How did that happen?
But it is compelling, and tremendously visceral. It lets you understand the characters, especially Jessie and the trial she has found herself on, and you root for her! Deeply unsettling and starkly real at times. If you are a fan of thrillers and don’t mind sudden gore, definitely give Gerald’s Game a play.