Mike Flanagan quickly made a name for himself among the horror genre after turning heads with Abstentia and following it up with the well-received Oculus back in 2013. Flanagan has been busy ever since, quickly turning out four more films—Hush, Before I Wake, Ouija: Origin of Evil, and now his latest with Gerald’s Game. When someone is putting out that much work back to back, they’re bound to deliver a bust (or two), which is why I was surprised by how good Gerald’s Game actually is. For a movie that many said was “unfilmable”, Flanagan’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel is a fantastic psychological thriller that taps into some very disturbing territory. In it, while trying to spice up their marriage in their remote lake house, Jessie must fight to survive when her husband dies unexpectedly, leaving her handcuffed to their bed frame.
Shooting almost an entire film in just a single location has been a tool used throughout movie history for a long time—Hitchcock was a master at it (Rear Window, Rope, Dial M for Murder)—so while the artifice of Gerald’s Game’s one-room nightmare isn’t anything new, it doesn’t mean that filmmakers can’t spin that same yarn in some unique and powerful ways. To stay true to Stephen King’s novel, however, Flanagan needed to not only shoot the film in one location, but blend the physical world with a psychological one because so much of the narrative is told through delusions and repressed memories. That was, without a doubt, Flanagan’s biggest hurdle and certainly not an easy task for any director. And not only did he succeed in doing just that, but it was by far and large the best part of the film.
Because there’s so much ground to cover from a storytelling point of view—and it’s one with twists and turns around every corner—Flanagan wastes no time digging right into the narrative. Before you know it, poor Jessie is handcuffed to her bed with her dead husband lying on the floor. And just like that, our heads are spinning alongside Jessie’s, who is desperately trying to figure out how she’s going to survive. From this point on, the film starts to reveal its many layers. What you simply think is a movie about a woman handcuffed to a bed, quickly turns into an entirely different beast. Her past creeps up on her in the night, her delusions begin to blur the lines between what’s real and what isn’t. There’s just so much going on in this movie that it’s amazing that Flanagan was able to balance all of it as well as he did. In other words, he directed the hell out of this one.
By now I’m sure that most of you have heard about that one scene. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, good because its horrors are best left to discover all on your own. But I will say this: it’s Bone Tomahawk levels of ho-ly-shit; it’s a totally gnarly and gruesome gross-out moment that I doubt any of this year’s horror films will top. I’d recommend watching this movie just for that scene alone. It’s that good. All that said, apparently Flanagan’s adaptation is a little too faithful to its source. And while I haven’t read the novel myself, from what I’ve gathered is that Flanagan’s ending is similar to King’s. Which is to say it’s not very good. My problem with the ending is that it’s wrapped up in too nice of a bow, and it’s so tonally different than everything else that came before it that it feels completely out of place—the movie essentially flatlines in the last 15 minutes. I feel like there had to be a better way to conclude Jessie’s story without being so on the nose. But again, most of it is just so damn good that it’s an absolute must-see, a powerful combination of psychological horror and survival, and easily one of the very best Stephen King adaptations.