Mike Flanagan to the Rescue. I Can’t Sing This Movie’s Praises Enough
Main Cast: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood
Director: Mike Flanagan
I’d like to start by making a case for writer/director Mike Flanagan getting some friggin recognition as an amazing horror film maker. He’s been on a killer streak since his feature film debut a short SIX years ago with Absentia, which was creepy, original, and a total mindbender. Then there was Oculus in 2013, a movie about a HAUNTED MIRROR, and he made it work beyond my expectations. 2016 brought Hush in which a deaf woman battles a mysterious stranger deep in the woods, and he makes a movie with almost no spoken dialogue 100% engaging. I haven’t seen Before I Wake (also 2016), but that same year he made a THIRD movie, this time Ouija: Origin of Evil. I skipped this one in theaters because I thought the first movie was a total waste of time and money, but what a mistake that was. Flanagan took the idea of a sequel/prequel and completely eradicated the bad taste left by the first Ouija. The man is on a streak you rarely see in horror movies these days.
But when I heard someone was making a movie of Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game, I had a few first thoughts. WHY? That was one of my least favorite King novels. It’s about a woman handcuffed to a bed after her husband has a heart attack, the movie’ll be 25 minutes long. Amid all of those first thoughts, not a one of them was positive.
Maybe if I’d done the research and found out Mike Flanagan was writing and directing, because my God what a job he’s done on this story. King has long been considered the MASTER of modern horror, but this writer/director from Salem, MA has taken one of the “master’s” worst books and made it into one of the BEST King movie adaptations.
We follow Jessie (Carla Gugino) and Gerald Burlingame (Bruce Greenwood) on a getaway to their remote cabin where Gerald wants to engage in some sex games. He wants to start with the handcuffs. After shackling his wife to the bed, he’s ready to get down, but Jessie isn’t feeling the role play and she says no. After some heated back and forth, Gerald suffers a heart attack and dies on the bed. Jessie kicks him onto the floor, and then reality begins to set in.
She’s still handcuffed to the bed.
The next few days are a fight to survive a weekend without food or water, and no one will be by the house to check on them until after Jessie is dead, so she has to do something, and quick. Oh, and there’s also a stray dog that’s made its way into the house and begins to snack on Gerald. And thank God for that, because Jessie is in no position to fight it off herself.
And this was the movie I was expecting, 103 minutes of Carla Gugino handcuffed to a bed, talking to herself and trying to figure a way to get out of this situation. But Mike Flanagan is smarter than me and more capable of turning a less then impressive novel into a stunning piece of film. When Gerald gets up from the bed and when a healthy and bitter version of Jessie appears at the bedside, things get even more interesting than they already were.
And then the flashback comes with Henry Thomas as father to Chiara Aurelia’s Young Jessie and my God what an impressive movie.
The performances are incredible, especially Gugino who practically carries this movie by herself, but Greenwood’s portrayal of the older and jaded Gerald Burlingame was a master class is RE-acting.
And the script. What a friggin script! The dialogue exchanges between Jessie and herself, and Jessie and dead Gerald had me cracking up one minute and with chills down my spine the next.
Say what you will about King adaptations, and I know some horror fans are not Flanagan fans, but I don’t get that at all, because he took what had all the potential of being in the top three most pointless King movies in history and turned it into, hands down, one of the best ever. I was a fan after Absentia and Oculus, but if this is the direction he’s heading, I’m all in for whatever he wants to do next. Because Gerald’s Game isn’t just a great King adaptation (it’s not too hard to be great among such a hit and miss list), but it’s just a great movie period, well-made, beautifully-shot, and Gugino is not getting the credit she deserves as an actress, simple as that.
I went into this movie hoping for the best, but knowing I did not like the source material at all, and I came out a changed fan. Still don’t think the book is any big deal, but if THIS is what it’s possible to do with this story, hell yes, Mike Flanagan. Do LISEY’S STORY next; I struggled to get through that book in a month, but I’d love to see his take.
Gerald’s Game is currently streaming on Netflix.
Want to read it first? Here you go:
C. Dennis Moore is the author of over 60 published short stories and novellas in the speculative fiction genre. Most recent appearances were in the Dark Highlands 2, What Fears Become, Dead Bait 3 and Dark Highways anthologies. His novels are Revelations, and the Angel Hill stories, The Man in the Window, The Third Floor, The Ghosts of Mertland and The Flip. He is writing another Angel Hill novel called Return to Angel Hill with co-author David Bain.