Movie review: Netflix's Gerald's game

March 28, 2020

‘GERALD’S Game’ is a Netflix movie based on horror maestro Stephen King’s 1992 book of the same title. It was considered hard to film because it’s about a woman whose hands are chained to a bed and what transpires is mostly based on her memory and inner monologues. Now, Mike Flanagan, who did the hit horror Netflix series, “The Haunting of Hill House” and such horror flicks as “Oculus”, “Ouija: Origin of Evil” and “Doctor Sleep”, has filmed it.

It opens with Jessie (Carla Gugino) and husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) driving to their lakeside vacation home in Alabama. They’re having problems with their sex life and they both hope this weekend will help them revive their fading passion as a couple. On the way there, they see a hungry stray dog and Jessie takes pity on it and feeds it with some steak.

In the bedroom, Gerald gets handcuffs and chains Jessie on the bedposts. Obviously, Jessie has consented to Gerald’s being more adventurous to save their marriage with this fantasy rape with bondage. But along the way, things get so rough and Jessie orders Gerald to unlock the cuffs. But Gerald says: “What if I won’t?” 

They then have a heated argument with him accusing Jessie of being uncooperative in spicing up their marriage. He has earlier taken two Viagra tablets and so it’s not surprising when he suddenly grips his chest in pain and gets a heart attack. He falls down and dies on top of her. 

This starts Jessie’s ordeal since no one can hear her even if she cries for her help. She kicks Gerald’s body and it falls down the floor. Soon, the hungry dog gets in and starts eating Gerald’s arm. She tries to shoo it away but it won’t leave. Hours of dehydration and fatigue eventually take its toll on her.

She then sees Gerald getting up, but his dead body is still on the floor. He starts talking to her about secrets from her past. She then sees her own self arguing with Gerald, like a double, a representation of her own thought processes that serves as a foil to the one chained in bed. More traumatic secrets hidden in her memory bank forgotten through the years are revealed. This concerns her pervert dad, who manipulated her when she was 12 years old, during a solar eclipse. 

The ghostly figure of a deformed man with a bag of bones also appears and she cannot tell if it’s just an apparition in the dark.  Defiant, she tells him: “You’re not real!” But is he really just a figment of her imagination? Gerald tells her it’s “the man made of moonlight” and is actually the Grim Reaper waiting to get her. 

The film can be interpreted in two levels. The surface level concerns the dangers a woman chained to a bed has to confront, which includes a hungry dog and a ghostly apparition. Underneath it, though, is a disturbing psychological treatise on valid marital issues that people can possibly relate with. It also delves on the issue of how the dark secrets of our past involving abuse can keep us chained to our present, which explains why Jessie married a man who’s just like her own father.

Carla Gugino is just terrific delivering her most affecting performance in ages, giving a superb portrayal of her two conflicting selves. She was just in her night gown and handcuffs throughout most of the movie, making her more vulnerable. She’s alternately pitiful, angry, vengeful and ultimately, very resourceful as she fights for survival. Bruce Greenwood supports her marvelously every inch of the way, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes supportive, often caustic. Their interactions as the only two major characters can really be very engaging.

The movie, though, has an ending some folks might think as controversial, or even unnecessary. Of course, we cannot touch on it here as it would surely be a spoiler. For some folks, it will be a fitting conclusion to what Jessie went through. But for some, this sort of extended epilogue, that happens several months later, might not be in keeping with the undeniable tension that the previous scenes have built up. Sorry to keep you wondering, but you have to see the movie and find out for yourself if you agree with the way everything has been summed up.