With an attempt to franchise The Dark Tower, Pennywise the clown terrorising audiences in what is set to be film of the year, and Netflix’s attempt to redo cult classic The Mist, it’s been raining Steven King adaptations this year. Seemingly overshadowed its siblings, however, September brought us the release of Gerald’s Game, a gory, sadistic underdog that may well have snuck up on all of us.
Spine-chilling, arm-aching terror – a promising contender for your Halloween horror list: (Plot spoiler: film contains potentially triggering scenes of child sexual assault and attempted rape.)
Directed by Mike Flanagan, who found critical acclaim with his 2016 home invasion horror ‘Hush’, this feature-length adaptation of King’s 1992 suspense novel tells the story of Jessie and Gerald Burlingame; a handsome, suburban couple on a kinky getaway to their remote lake house in the woods in an attempt to reignite the spark of their lacklustre marriage.
A time-old trope in television – a couple on the brink of divorce trying to spice up their love life – but this isn’t your typical saucy rom-com. Gerald’s sexy fantasy of handcuffing Jessie to the bed and some dominant, Viagra-fuelled roleplay quickly results in a heart attack, a head injury and Jessie bound to the bed in flimsy lingerie. Miles away from civilisation and with no neighbours to hear her scream, this subdued, humble housewife is being sniffed out by a stray dog who is very, very hungry.
“…slowly descends into psychological chaos”
As the film begins to unravel, we are left wondering how on Earth this premise, reminiscent of King’s canine creature-feature Cujo, could last for the 105 minutes promised by the runtime. However, what at first appears to be a simple struggle for survival slowly descends into psychological chaos as Jessie falls in and out of consciousness in a deep, desperate attempt to suppress a dark childhood trauma revealed to us in several sinister flashbacks and conversations with her warring internal personas.
“Leaves the audience rooting for her”
King’s technique of fluctuating between past and present is beautifully executed by Flanagan, who successfully brings the interweaving timelines together in a way that leaves us as desperate for resolution as Jessie is to escape. Carla Gugino, who steals the show in a career-affirming performance of intense physical exhaustion, transforms what could have been a boring soft-core porn survival flick into a raw, real terror that leaves the audience rooting for her and stays with you long after the credits roll.
“It is important to acknowledge that beneath the gory exterior is a surprisingly refreshing, narrative”
The last half hour can leave a little to be desired, with Flanagan’s unfailing faithfulness to King’s work seeming to err on the side of fan-service in contrast to the rest of the film’s hard hitting, truthful reflection of humanity. However, culminating in a finale that left me white-knuckled and my housemate hiding behind the pillow, it is also important to acknowledge that beneath the gory exterior is a surprisingly refreshing, albeit slightly fuzzy narrative wherein a woman quite literally fights against violent, toxic masculinity.
This occurs in the most horrifying of circumstances, putting the film on a pedestal far above the unintelligent, style over substance slasher films that have graced our screens of late.
“Gerald’s Game” is available to watch now on Netflix
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