What’s as scary as Pennywise the Dancing Clown snatching up children in the sewers? A husband (Bruce Greenwood) and a wife (Carla Gugino) on a short getaway trip to spice things up and, after the wife has been handcuffed to the bed, the husband dying from a heart attack, leaving the wife trapped with no one coming for days. Netflix’s Stephen King adaptation, Gerald’s Game, directed by Mike Flanagan (Ouija: Origin of Evil), could never be the sort of crowd-pleaser that It has turned out to be, but it is undoubtedly as gut twisting, expertly crafted and emotionally engaging.
Despite being set almost entirely in one room, Gerald’s Game turns out to be a deeply visual and physical film, one about a character who is as fleshed out, if not more so, than those of most typical feature length pictures. Flanagan mines the progression of fear brought on by the situation, utilizing careful framing to solidify the peril, dynamic editing and abrasive close-ups to evoke the hallucinatory panic and bluntly lengthy shots when drastic measures must be taken.
Yet, Flanagan needed the level of commitment that Gugino and Greenwood bring for the elements to gel. Greenwood is mesmerizingly intense and Gugino is particularly moving, channeling a quiet vulnerability to sell her character’s arc. Her desperation is pitch perfect, adaptive to what’s emotionally at stake in each moment and never over the top just for desperation’s sake.
Similarly to It, this film deals with parental sexual harassment. Thankfully, it never verges into the exploitive. While a few tropes present here are definitely tiresome, a majority of the work done to frame the character’s journey is sensitive but direct, fully aware of the stance it needs to consistently take but also willing to venture into uncomfortable territory to justly tackle certain aspects. Take a careful look at the camera work. It’s never intrusive or excessive, used simply to augment the character’s emotions and the story’s elements of tension.
Gerald’s Game is the type of horror movie we need more of — an interesting concept, a story and a character that feel organic within that conceit and some purely cinematic filmmaking to make us want to look away, but never be able to.
Featured image via Netflix.