Warning: spoilers ahead.
For the record, I never cracked open Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game because I just couldn’t take what the cover — a pair of handcuffs hanging from a bedpost, its top carved into a crouching, hurting woman — indicated. This week at Fantastic Fest has been rough, and I wasn’t sure if I was ready to watch this after so much callous behavior by members of the festival here in Austin. (Google it if you don’t know to what I’m referring; I’m not here to argue with you.)
However, with Mike Flanagan (Hush, Oculus, Absentia) at the helm, I was willing to give it a go. I’d seen his work before, and I knew he was talented. I’d also recently heard him speak about his struggle to make Gerald’s Game on Mick Garris’ Post Mortem podcast. In any case, I knew that Flanagan would likely try to the best of his abilities to treat this story, with its triggering subject matter, with the utmost care.
I was not disappointed, and I commend both Flanagan and Netflix (and yes, the producers) on creating a bonafide masterpiece. Gerald’s Game is a finely wrought web of tragic memories, current horror, and catharsis.
Carla Gugino puts in an Oscar-worthy performance as Jessie, a woman held captive to the bed in a remote house by the lake. Jessie and her husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) have gone away to try to spice up their floundering marriage a bit, but the problem is — he drops dead of a heart attack after an emotional exchange between the two of them.
What follows is a harrowing story of survival as Jessie speaks to what may be Gerald’s ghost, as well as her own double, in between a hungry dog lingering and waiting for her die, and flashbacks of trauma from her childhood. Here, Jessie’s dad (Henry Thomas) and young Jessie (Chiara Aurelia) relive the memories that have scarred and followed Jessie for her whole life. She hasn’t spoken of these incidents, and this is a story that burdens women all too often. (If that weren’t enough, a ghoul waits for her to perish.)
The theatre was so quiet, you could hear someone five rows down drop a napkin. As with the rest of the cast, Thomas and Aurelia were also excellent. That’s another testament to Flanagan’s directing abilities — you can hire amazing actors, but if you don’t know how to use them, feed them, let them breathe within their roles… why bother?
In short, I can’t say enough about this film, or how deftly and with tact the subject matter has been treated. And I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if Gerald’s Game was nominated for several Oscars. It’s quite simply, excellent. Here is a team working together at the top of their game, and we are all the richer for a story of this caliber to be told.
You’ll be able to see Gerald’s Game on Netflix on September 29th — just bring the tissues. Check out the trailer below.