It’s extremely rare that I get truly frightened from a film. It’s even rarer when I come across a scene in a movie that makes me want to look away. Rarer still are times when I find a movie that I feel the need to take a break due to it just being too much. I found myself in all three of those scenario’s while watching the newest Stephen King adaptation Gerald’s Game, released to Netflix this past Friday.
The concept is strange but simple. A married couple, Jessie (Carla Gugino) and Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) relocate for the weekend in an isolated vacation house to try to spice up their marriage though – well, some really kinky sex. Gerald convinces Jessie to let him handcuff her to the bed. But just as things start to get going, Jessie decides this is something that is way outside of her comfort zone. They begin to argue and Gerald succumbs to full cardiac arrest; he drops dead right then and there.
Jessie is alone, handcuffed to the bed. No one is coming for her – there’s no one around. For lack of a better word, she’s screwed.
But this happens within the first maybe ten minutes of the film, and there’s still an hour and a half to go.
If you haven’t seen the movie yet, stop reading and watch it. Come back when you’re done; major plot details are about to be revealed.
I’ve never read the book, so I really can’t compare the two versions, but I would be very surprised if the book was that much better than the film. Gerald’s Game is very scary in its visual aspect, but what really disturbed me were the ideas contained within. Just the thought of Jessie’s situation alone is enough to induce nightmares.
And this goes even further. As we see, she begins to lose it very quickly. Gerald comes back to converse with her in her mind, and visions of herself debate with the two of them as well. She begins to see two glowing eyes in the corner; something watching her, just waiting there. Dead Gerald asks if it’s really possible to die of fright; maybe it is. Sure, he says, the doctors can write whatever they want on the death certificate, but who is to say you really didn’t die from seeing something terrible watching you in the middle of the night? They only join you after the fact. There are still those lonely moments when the moon is just right that anything seems possible.
Then there’s the scene where she realizes that the only way to escape her bonds is by cutting her wrists and the skin of her hands before pulling as hard as she can so that she is able to wiggle out, slowly and painfully. Gerald’s Game shows every little detail of this, and yes, it was almost too much for me to handle. Still, in true King fashion, things don’t stop there.
That thing in the corner of her room? It’s real. It wasn’t a hallucination. Something really came to visit her, bag of bones and all.
All of these ingredients make for one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen, and if that wasn’t enough, we still have the issue of childhood sexual abuse to deal with. Gerald’s Game is like a marathon of horror. It just keeps throwing things at you, and you are left to deal with them long after the film is over.
Director Mike Flanagan has an absolute classic on his hands. He has crafted a film that is overwhelmingly terrifying but above all, extremely convincing. It’s one of those times where you never feel like you’re watching a movie. It’s as if you’re being granted access to watch another person’s life play out from afar. I also applaud Flanagan for being unafraid to cover even the most disturbing aspects of King’s works, something that many filmmakers tend to omit. Stephen King has a penchant for going places you really shouldn’t go, and not many directors have the tenacity to include them when it’s time to bring the story to the screen.
Despite the disaster that was The Dark Tower, we really are in the midst of possibly the greatest period of Stephen King adaptations thus far. This isn’t to say that films like Carrie and The Shining weren’t horror masterpieces – they are – it’s just the fact that there are so many good ones coming at us left and right. Big ones, too, as It is no throwaway short story that’d make a good cash-grab. Next on the agenda is a film called 1922, another Netflix venture, but I’ll be very surprised if anything is able to top the horror that is Gerald’s Game for a very long time.