Mild spoilers ahead…
The hype machine has gone into overdrive for a certain Mr Stephen King in recent months. First ‘It’ opened to record numbers and became the highest grossing horror movie ever, then over on Netflix an altogether darker, more cerebral piece of work from the maestro of the macabre slipped in quietly to give us nightmares into the wee small hours. That would be ‘Gerald’s Game’, and what a game it is.
Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood star as Jessie and Gerald, who after eleven years of a slowly dying marriage, decide to head out to their lake house in the middle of nowhere to spice things up. What begins as an innocent sex game involving handcuffs and Viagra soon spirals into a rape fantasy and death. You only have to watch the trailer to know Gerald bites it pretty early on, keeling over from a heart attack and leaving Jessie chained to the bed with nothing but her personal demons and a very hungry rabid dog for company…
I must admit, whilst looking forward to seeing Gerald’s Game I did wonder how they could spin out 1 hour 47 minutes of a woman chained to a bed. For the most part my worries were unfounded. Once Gerald drops dead things spiral pretty quickly. We go full throttle into Jessie’s psyche and no disturbing stone is left unturned.
One thing Stephen King has always excelled at is taking our primal childhood fears and making them a very real, terrifying reality. Fear of the dark. Monsters. The hand reaching out from under the bed. The nightmare flipside of the nuclear family. The horror of parents turning a blind eye when they should be protecting us. The desperate loneliness of insomnia where everything is at its blackest and most hopeless. All of these take centre stage.
But the true horror of this piece – and of Jessie’s life – is (mild spoiler) child abuse. With more than an echo of the wonderful film adaptation of Dolores Claiborne, we’re treated to a red-tinged flashback to a solar eclipse that heralded the end of Jessie’s childhood at the hands of her father. The nuanced performances and writing around this portion of the movie bring out the manipulative depths a child abuser will go to to keep his secret safe, and in a truly heartbreaking scene we see the trauma a young Jessie goes through as she’s emotionally blackmailed into keeping shtum. This is a rare thing indeed in any movie let alone a horror movie, to see writing and characterisation of such depth.
Which is why it’s almost inexplicable that in the last fifteen minutes of the movie we’re treated to a script that suddenly is so schmaltzy and on the nose you start to wonder if it’s flipped into a parody of what we’ve been enjoying for the previous 90 minutes. Being a connoisseur of the camp, the trashy and the bad, I could appreciate some of the humdinger lines and wrap-it-up-in-a-pink-bow resolution in a tongue in cheek way. But seriously, having gone through the traumas we see Jessie endure for the majority of the movie, my jaw was on the floor at what the movie then became.
This in no way detracts from the film experience so don’t let that put you off. There were two moments during Gerald’s Game where I screamed and shouted in horror – you’ll know the moments when you see them. One that will put you off that burgeoning foot fetish for life, and the other that will make you wince in agony along with Jessie. The film GOES there with the horror. If you saw ‘It’ and, like me and the other Screaming Queenz, thought whilst it was a good movie it lacked the depths of horror that only Stephen King can bring? Well this movie has that in spades.
Of the two much-hyped King adaptations (I’m not even going there with Dark Tower), this one brings the pure horror that ‘It’ lacked.
Gerald’s Game is one worth playing. Just keep an eye out for The Moonlight Man…