Gerald’s Game made me ponder over a lot of things – cases of incest and abusive husbands that fill up our newspapers every day, the event of the solar eclipse, the presence of something sinister (in the dark of the night), and introspection during arduous situations – Mike Flanagan (directing from a screenplay by himself and Jeff Howard, based on a Stephen King novel) connects these dots magnificently in a crisp psychological horror-thriller than runs for 105 minutes.
Right from the opening shot (of handcuffs being loaded onto a satchel), we sense the oddness. And it doesn’t really surprise when the husband (Gerald, played by Bruce Greenwood) dies of cardiac arrest just when a quarrel ensues before the couple proceed to have BDSMic sex (in an attempt to revive their sexual lives) at their remote lake-house, because Flanagan has already mastered the skill of putting his lead character/(s) in uncomfortable situations (Absentia, Oculus, Hush & Ouija sequel). So, I guess the novel was tailor-made for him to direct. However, I should also mention that this movie veers away from the usual “trapped-person” conventionalities.
Here’s a woman (Jess, played by the brilliant Carla Gugino) who’s left handcuffed to her bed (yes both hands), unable to even move about. But the movie *actually begins* a little later: a stray dog (whom Jess had fed earlier) walks into the room and bites off a piece of flesh from Gerald’s corpse. Then, the hallucinations commence – Jess sees a version of herself, her husband and at times, the story intermittently dives into flashback mode, to the time when she was a little girl, and was vacationing with her parents during the occurrence of a rare kind of solar eclipse.
Spoilers should end right about here. One’d wonder by reading the synopsis given on the IMDb page that this one will be another survival thriller on the lines of ‘Hush’ or ‘Buried’, but that’s not all it is. The mystery around Jess’ survival is indeed the spine of the film though there’s plenty more to chew on. She discusses with the hallucinatory version of her (dead) husband on what had transpired in the couples’ lives, and how they’d slowly drifted apart from each other – the conversation she should’ve had with him when he was alive and well. Every time the dramatic element kicks in, Flanagan reminds us that this film is as real as it is fictional. Jess will have to stretch herself to keep the blood circulation going, drink water to sustain, and shoo away the dog when it tries to chomp on her.
The ‘Moonlight Man’ was a well-conceived addition to the goings-on: a sense of gloom prevails, apparently personifying Death itself. The flashbacks provide extensive character development (in a situation where Jess can do nothing but examine her own thoughts and feelings). The final act is on a different plateau altogether: gorehounds should be pleased, but it somehow didn’t strike a chord with me. The narration that followed (revealing a plot-twist) also felt out-of-place for a film that had almost stuck to its old-school storytelling roots. I’d say the movie peaks during those stretches where lines between fantasy and reality begin to blur.
Flanagan sees to it that some of the ghastly images that unfold on screen remain with the viewer for a very long time: the Moonlight Man’s smile, the color of the surroundings during solar eclipse, ripping a palm open using a piece of glass, the pervasive glances of the dad and the apathetic gestures of the husband..everything leaves a dubious impression.
Verdict: Well-executed psychological thriller with a befuddled finale!
Watch the trailer here: