GERALD’S GAME has a certain grim fascination to it, partially due to the seemingly hopeless dilemma the heroine is placed in (actually shackled to), mostly thanks to the top-quality acting. But other than its perks as a performance piece, and being an excuse for some elegantly shot, icky semi-Saw scares, this 2017 Stephen King adaptation is mostly such a queasy, dispiriting foray into psychological torment and wince-inducing physical agony that it’s hard to justify, let alone recommend. Watching this with someone who didn’t tell you to shut it off could be enough to make you reconsider the relationship.
“Everybody’s got a little corner in there somewhere; a button they won’t admit they want pressed. Year after year, I barely gave you a glimpse of mine.”
Hoping to rekindle their dormant sex life on a trip to an isolated beach house, ‘Jessie’ (Carla Gugino) consents to her husband’s idea for stimulus. ‘Gerald’ (Bruce Greenwood) handcuffs her to bedposts to get some kinky role play going. When she vehemently changes her mind as things get too weird, arousal turning into aggression, they argue. Angry and amped up by Viagra, he keels over from a heart attack. She’s still restrained and the key is out of reach. A starving dog walks in. She starts to see things–are they really there?—and in the midst of the escalating ordeal recalls long-buried abuse from her childhood. Basically, the weekend is shot. So are 103 minutes of your peace of mind.
Gugino and Greenwood are in stellar form (in every way, awesome bod for 60, Bruce, who knew?), and there is able work from Henry Thomas, a long way from the nice little kid of E.T., as Jessie’s snake of a father. Chiara Aurelia plays her as a young girl, and Carel Struycken appears as the demonic ‘Midnight Man’. King aficionados will recognize a number of subtle nods to characters and assorted bits from a number of his works. Discomfiting as it is, it ticks away tension like clockwork (orange type) until the pat wrapup, which comes off as a cheat after putting the characters (and us) through all the misery.
Directed by Mike Flanagan, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jeff Howard. What for? Who for?