Gerald’s Game (2017)

Gerald’s Game
Director: Mike Flanagan
Writer: Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard
Based on: Stephen King‘s novel
Cast: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Chiara Aurelia, Carel Struycken, Henry Thomas
Seen on: 21.4.2020

Content Note: ableism

Plot:
Jessie (Carla Gugino) and her husband Gerald have an exciting weekend planned. In their remote vacation home during the off-season, they want to take the weekend to focus on themselves and their relationship – by spicing up their sex life. Gerald brought handcuffs and is eager to get going. Jessie is willing to give it a try but as the tying up quickly turns into a rape fantasy for Gerald, she doesn’t want to go along anymore. As he tries to convince her, Gerald has a heart attack though and suddenly Jessie finds herself all alone, chained to a bed. Or maybe she isn’t quite as alone as she thought.

Gerald’s Game is a tense, very well-made film with a fantastic Gugino. If you want to be creeped out, I can definitely recommend it.

The film poster showing Jessie (Carla Gugino) with her hands chained to the bed, her husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) lying on top of her.

I read Gerald’s Game as a teenager (20 years ago or so) and the book left me with a very lasting impression. Not that I remembered everything – I had completely forgotten that Jessie hears voices or her backstory – but the situation of her being chained to the bed, the clever ways she comes up with to help herself, and also the mysterious apparition – all of that stuck. And to those parts, the film was more than just a little faithful, I thought.

Flanagan manages to make the minimalist setting very evocative and even though I knew what would happen, there were quite a few very tense moments where the creepiness of it all really struck me and I was genuinely scared. This is also thanks to Gugino’s excellent performance and the way she and Greenwood bounce of each other is very nice.

Jessie (Carla Gugino) with her hands chained to the bed, her husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) standing next to her.

The relationship between Jessie and Gerald is also interestingly done, making a lot of good points about heteronormativity/heterosexuality and the casual misogyny that is part of so many (hetero) relationships. The way their BDSM attempt turns sour speaks also not only to how this power imbalance reads very differently to men and women, but also to the fact that people really should learn BDSM etiquette before endeavoring such kinks. They should have talked about the Dos and Don’ts beforehand (at the very least). But the feminist (and kinky) points that could be a huge part of the story could have been developed a lot better.

In many ways, the story here is a typical Stephen King story. Often that is very good, but it also includes – as so often – ableism in the shape of the Moonlight Man who has acromegaly (to be fair, I don’t remember whether he had it in the book as well) to underscore his “freakishness”. If it wasn’t for that, I probably would have enjoyed the film even more. But I did enjoy it.

Jessie (Chiara Aurelia) and her father (Henry Thomas) watch a solar eclipse.

Summarizing: a good, scary watch.

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