Horror is an interesting genre in film. On the one hand, the vast majority of horror films are incredibly and remarkably bad, with poorly written plots, excessive jump scares, and bland acting to drive it home. And yet, a good horror film can provide the peak of film, providing meaningful experiences and powerful films, such as “The Babadook”, “Get Out”, and “IT”. “Gerald’s Game”, directed by Mike Flanagan and starring Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood, falls well into this latter category. From the ambition in its simplicity to the astounding performance by Gugino as Jesse, “Gerald’s Game” is a horror film that fans of the genre and otherwise will not want to miss.
To elaborate, the film benefits from a simplicity that many horror films fail to utilize. The majority of the film takes place in one room of a cabin, with the main character handcuffed to the headboard after a kinky weekend between the aging couple goes awry. The limited setting allows for the drama to really feel personal and intimate, especially since the majority of the dialogue is between Jesse and her mental projections of herself and her husband. Basically, the tension comes from the small, necessary actions that Jesse must take in order to survive, which feels fresh and innovative, especially when compared to much of modern horror’s emphasis on jump scares and gruesome death scenes to elicit fear. There are, mind you, some aspects of traditional horror. There’s a rather chilling shot of a dog chewing on human meat, a spooky supernatural influence, and perhaps the most gruesome image of gore that I’ve ever seen in a horror film– but these are few and far between.
Admittedly, however, the simplicity of the film would most definitely fall flat if not for the skill of Carla Gugino in the lead role. It’s not an exaggeration to claim that Gugino carried this film– it’s just honest. The best scenes in the film are, after all, where she acts off of herself, which is always a wonderful feat for a talented actor. Her ability to portray both the insecurity, weakness, and wild fear of Jesse when she’s tied up, while also playing up the confident and empowered mental projection of herself, is a fascinating dynamic to watch and one she maintains marvelously.
I’m also thankful for the film’s tactful approach to the issues of sexual assault and incest within the film, as these are essential aspects of the plot. That being said, these things are not sensationalized or overly explicit, and while it definitely still has the potential to be triggering to some viewers, it’s overall done in a way that is respectful to the actors and the characters, which is, again, refreshing to see in the horror genre.
If there’s one thing that doesn’t work in the film, it’s the somewhat weak elements of supernatural influence, which feel a little tacked on in comparison to the rest of the film. Admittedly, these elements do end up adding to Jesse’s arc quite well, but the clunky feeling of it does end up detracting from an otherwise smooth horror feature. Overall, however, “Gerald’s Game” proves to be an excellent film for horror fans and film buffs alike, and, if we had a grading scale, it would rank very high.