A sexually frustrated married couple, Jess (Carla Gugino) and Gerald (Bruce Greenwood), travel to a vacation home in the forest to spice up their sex life. Two pairs of handcuffs (the real ones, not those fuzzy novelty ones that break when you really get going) trap Jess to the reinforced bedposts of a queen-sized bed.
Jess stops Gerald as the sex game goes to far and starts treading into a rape fantasy that she was not expecting, but of course it can’t simply end there. As they fight about their broken marriage, Jess repeatedly asking for him to uncuff her, Gerald suffers a heart attack on top of her and dies.
This is when Gerald’s Game really begins. And it continues on with Jess strapped to the bed. If it sounds visually flat, it is. Mostly. But director Mike Flanagan is able to control the energy of the small space surprisingly well.
The film doesn’t quite sell the mental breakdown that Jess succumbs to which allows the script to still have dialogue once she is the only one in the room. However, if one can buy into it, then the film continues on in an engaging fashion. For a time.
Flanagan has had a fairly strong track record thus far in his career, with films like Ouija: Origin of Evil, Oculus, and Hush satisfying without ever reaching the level of great. Gerald’s Game follows this trend.
The film is purposefully static while still commanding attention with its rather simple narrative beats, taking on the Stephen King source material admirably. At least initially. Then it winds down the inferno of exploitation, diving into the strained psyche of the protagonist in order for her to manage her situation.
The two halves don’t mesh, but each has its individual moments of intrigue. Not to mention both are blessed with Gugino’s performance, which wholly carries the film. Greenwood is along for the ride, providing acerbic cynicism in his line readings, but Gugino is the star of the show, and rightfully so.
Still, Gerald’s Game can’t help but overstay its welcome, pushing on past a functional ending. The tautness of the single-room thriller starts to unspool in the final act, and the denouement is a tacked on ending devoid of energy. Flanagan provides another strong directorial showing, but this and his other films are all hampered in one way or another. Here, the culprit is a loose narrative that too often loses sight of what is genuinely engaging about its premise.
Gerald’s Game: C
As always, thanks for reading!
Like CineFiles on Facebook for updates on new articles and reviews.
—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)