Director: Mike Flanagan
Written by: Jeff Howard, Mike Flanagan, from Stephen King’s novel “Gerald’s Game” (published 9/27/16)
Cast: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Henry Thomas, Chiara Aurelia, Carel Struycken, Kate Siegel
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/27/17
Opens: September 29, 2017
Joan Baez does a great job singing the traditional song that opens “Hard if the fortune of all womankind/ They’re always controlled/ they’re always confined/ Controlled by her parents until she’s a wife/ A slave to her husband all the rest of her life.” This sounds more like a fantasy inspired by Saudi Arabian culture but it’s not at all untrue when dealing with our own country. And who better to show the monstrous dimensions of male control than Stephen King? Mike Flanagan adapts King’s novel to construct a tale that’s perhaps too theatrical for the movie (most of the action takes place inside a single room), but given top performances by Carla Gugino as the “controlled and confined” woman and Bruce Greenwood as the all-powerful controlling force, “Gerald’s Game” is a contest that’s worth your playing time.
In the well-paced, mostly slow-moving story, Jessie Burlingame (Carla Gugino) and her rich husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) head for the summer home in Maine, intent on spicing up their marriage. Gerald’s game starts out simple enough: he handcuffs her to the bed and refuses to honor her protests, keeping her chained as a physical manifestation of their unequal bond. When he drop dead of a heart attack after taking Viagra, she is stuck. Unable to release the handcuffs and threatened by a stray dog that first works on Gerald’s body before considering a move on Jessie, she lets her imagination take hold, remembering—as Joan Baez might say “didn’t I tell you?”—an event that began when she was thirteen (played by Chiara Aurelia) and molested by her father, Tom (Henry Thomas). Soon enough she begins to talk to herself, a fleshed-out image of her, commenting like a Greek chorus on her plight.
Though King’s novel takes place entirely within a room and positions Gerald as a schlemiel who resents his trophy wife, here the man is a hunk in the form of Bruce Greenwood, who paces around with a pair of clinging undershorts as though expected to have sex with her without stripping. While Jessie struggles to free herself, the hallucinatory image of her husband talks calmly, giving the viewer a picture of empathy. But Gerald is no pal, goading her with descriptions of how she will die of dehydration, while her own image tells her that “you and Gerald will be together, inside the dog.”
Carla’s confrontation after escaping is with an actual monster (Carel Struycken), an effect that’s like a bludgeon after the more sophisticated encounters that she has experienced. All in all, a restrained look at the kind of horror to which Stephen King is accustomed, leaving behind the immature ravings and bloodshed of a monster for the more subtle and nuanced story. If you’re a fella and go to this movie with a date, be prepared to hide under the theater seat.
Unrated. 103 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers? Agree? Disagree? Why?
Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B