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Movie Review: 'Gerald's Game' (2017)

Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, Gerald's Game is about a woman, Jessie, who is spending the weekend with her older husband. During bondage play, her husband keels over from a fatal heart attack. The planets are aligned against Jessie. Not only is she handcuffed to the bed, but her husband Gerald's retreat is miles away from the nearest neighbor. Strapped to the bed, Jessie is faced with hallucinations of herself and her late husband. She also comes to terms with previous sexual abuse from her father.

For a film with such a simple premise, the story manages to remain properly dynamic. Jessie has the proper desperation, trying to figure out any way to escape her predicament. The movie never lingers to the point where these moments wear out their welcome. Director Mike Flanagan (of Oculus fame) knows when to play the right note and when to move on.

While the Netflix original is based on the Stephen King novel, Gerald's Game makes the most out of a simple premise. Unlike most Stephen King works, the supernatural is absent from Gerald's Game. Instead, this film relies more on psychological scares - fear of being trapped in an isolated room, fear of possibly dying, fear of possible intruders. The film captures how difficult it is for Jessie to even have a drink of water when both arms are handcuffed to a bedpost.

While the film's horrors are more cerebral, there are certainly elements that FEEL supernatural such as the motif of the solar eclipse and a character that haunts Jessie. The film also deals with touchy subjects of sexual abuse at a young age without feeling exploitative. Although it comes close to preachy, Gerald's Game fortunately never crosses that threshold.

Also even with more psychological scares, there is some gore. Discussing what happens will enter spoiler territory. Rather than spread out the violence, most of it happens a few horrific bursts. One was so gruesome, I paused the film to delay it.

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Gerald's Game does work as an effective thriller, but it is a little dialogue-heavy. Considering the story is essentially a chamber piece (I think the flashbacks disqualify this from being a true chamber piece), this works at establishing characters. While we see little of Gerald before his first act death, his appearance in hallucination reveals much about his and Jessie's relationship. Also, music is used quite sparingly throughout the movie. While these factors work in the film's favor, I bring them up part because sparse music and dialogue-heavy films aren't everyone's bag.

Carla Gugino turns in a fine performance as Jessie, truly selling the peril her character faces. Gugino technically plays dual roles as she also plays her own subconscious who remains calm and cool no matter how freaked out Jessie becomes.

There are a few faults in the film. There are some minor pacing issues. Toward the end, there is an exposition-heavy narration. Director Mike Flanagan did the right thing by at least showing the events play out WITH the narration, but it goes on a hair too long. Also, the final act is a mixed bag. While it does feel a little out of place, it also functions as an effectively chilling reveal. So all's well that ends well.

Gerald's Game is currently playing on Netflix. One need not be a Stephen King fan to enjoy this tale of psychological terror and living with the long-lasting effects of abuse.

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