Gerald’s Game


Carla Gugino is literally a captive audience.

(2017) Thriller (Netflix) Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Carel Struycken, Henry Thomas, Chiara Aurelia, Kate Siegel, Natalie Roers, Tom Glynn, Stu Cookson, Gwendolyn Mutamba, Ben Pronsky, Jon Arthur, Nikia Reynolds, Kimberly Battista, Michael Amstutz, Chuck Borden, Dori Lumpkin, Chad Kinney, Bill Riales, John Ceallach, Tony Beard, Victoria Hardway, Adalyn Jones. Directed by Mike Flanagan

It has been the year of Stephen King adaptations, with Dark Tower and It having already made their theatrical runs and 1922 recently released on Netflix. This adaptation is of particular interest because 1) Mike Flanagan, who has been impressive with Oculus and Hush, is in the director’s chair here and 2), this is one of King’s lesser works that was thought to be virtually unfilmable. How wrong they were.

One can see why that thought occurred however. The movie is mostly set in a single bedroom with the protagonist alone and immobile for the bulk of the story. There is also a kinky sexuality to it that in the current atmosphere is both timely and perhaps may incite a certain segment of the population to point their fingers and cry shrilly “Objectification! Objectification! Objectification!” We are, these days, gunshy about sex (particularly of the kinkier variety) on both sides of the political aisle.

The marriage between successful attorney Gerald (Greenwood) and his trophy wife Jessie (Gugino) has been troubled for some time now and the two decide to take a romantic trip to a beautiful but remote vacation cabin to try and heat things up. Gerald’s idea of romance is a lot different than Jessie’s however; he wants to handcuff her to the bed and enact a rape fantasy on his wife. At first she goes along with it, but as Gerald gets deeper into the game she freaks out and demands that he stop and free her. At first he is petulant, like a little boy who’s been told he can’t have a cookie. Then he does what most little boys don’t do – he has a heart attack and dies.

Slowly the realization comes to Jessie that she is in an absolutely terrifying predicament; she has no way to free herself from the stainless steel cuffs, no way to get food or water and she is sharing the bedroom with her husband’s corpse and a hungry dog who is desperate enough to enjoy some Gerald tartare. As panic begins to set in and she realizes that nobody can hear her screams, she begins to speak with the angels and devils of her better nature – her angels represented by a strong, self-possessed version of herself and her devils by Gerald himself. While Gerald mostly relates the scenarios in which she dies a horrible death, the alter-Jessie figures out ingenious ways to get water and eventually to concoct a desperate plan to escape – one that will take all of the actual Jessie’s willpower and courage.

But there is soon another player in the play; a deathly, spectral figure with a bag of bones who is stalking her after dark. She realizes that as the last evening falls that he will come for her in the night…and she will join her husband as potential puppy chow if she doesn’t escape before then.

The script follows King’s book pretty faithfully but it lacks the sense of dread and terror that King was able to weave in the book – but to be fair, not every writer is as talented at that particular skill as King is. In fact, very few writers are. Flanagan and his co-writer Jeff Howard turn this more into a suspense film than a supernatural thriller which is what King produced – but the Moonlight Man is excellently rendered, I’ll give them that.

I’ll also give you that this is the performance that I’ve been waiting for Gugino to deliver. It’s masterful as she captures both the strong, self-assured side of Jessie and the frightened, wounded and disregarded part of her. She spends nearly the entire movie in a negligee (and looks mighty fine doing it) but you never get a sense of her being exploited (although some may disagree); she’s a woman who is comfortable with her sexuality and one senses that if Gerald had actually had a romantic weekend getaway planned instead of a kinkfest, he’d have gotten plenty of action.

She and Greenwood actually work very well together. Greenwood is sixty-plus at this point but he looks a lot more buff than the overweight Gerald of the book; it’s possible that Gerald’s use of that Little Blue Pill may have been what done him in. The relationship between Jessie and Gerald is believable; these are people who feel like they’ve been together for awhile but have begun to diverge away from one another and neither one knows really how to get back on the same page – or if it’s even possible. They remain civil to one another but there is that undercurrent of tension between them that tells a story of frustrations not voiced and petty arguments that are.

There is a subplot about Jessie’s past about a terrible incident that takes place during a rare total eclipse that does a lot to explain her backstory. It’s sensitively handled and again is pretty timely considering the events of recent months but it might be a little disturbing for people who have a history of childhood sexual abuse.

All in all this turned out much better than I think most of us had a right to expect. It re-emphasizes that Flanagan is the genuine article, a master of horror films who tends to elevate every project he works on and this one is no exception. Not only is it maybe the best adaptation of King you’ll see this year, it is one of the better original films you’ll see on Netflix this year as well.

REASONS TO GO: Gugino gives a career-defining performance and she works very well with Greenwood. The plot is fiendishly clever.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie is not nearly as creepy as the book.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, a good deal of sexuality and some disturbing images and gore.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Dialogue and plot devices from the film reference such Stephen King books as Dolores Claiborne, Cujo and The Dark Tower.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/30/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Girlfriend Experience
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
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Broken


Eloise Laurence won't let go of Tim Roth until he tells her what it's like to work with Quentin Tarantino.

Eloise Laurence won’t let go of Tim Roth until he tells her what it’s like to work with Quentin Tarantino.

(2012) Drama (Film Movement) Tim Roth, Cillian Murphy, Lino Facioli, Eloise Laurence, Rory Kinnear, Denis Lawson, Bill Milner, Robert Emms, Zana Marjanovic, Seeta Indrani, Nell Tiger Free, Rory Girvan, Clare Burt, Nicola Sloan, Martha Bryant, George Sargeant, Rosalie Kosky-Hensman, Faye Daveney. Directed by Rufus Norris  

 Florida Film Festival 2013

The things that go on in a quiet residential neighborhood. One cul-de-sac may look completely ordinary, the last place you would expect dark goings on taking place, but you never know what’s seething just below the surface of a normal street.

Skunk (Laurence) – that’s what everybody calls her but really nobody remembers what her real name is – lives on just such a quiet cul-de-sac. Her father Archie (Roth) is a barrister although not an especially important one. He’s just trying to make it through after his wife and her mother abandoned them. Skunk has Type 1 diabetes and requires constant monitoring. Archie has enlisted a nanny, Polish Kasia (Marjanovic) to keep an eye on her and her older brother Jed (Milner).

Kasia has a boyfriend, Mike (Murphy) who also happens to teach at Skunk’s school – and who also happens to be the object of Skunk’s crush. It’s all rather sweet and melancholy at the same time. Skunk also has a boyfriend of sorts; Dillon (Sargeant) who at first treats her like crap but gradually they become real affectionate-like.

One day out of the blue, one of her neighbors, Mr. Oswald (Kinnear) seemingly without provocation attacks Rick (Emms), an emotionally and mentally challenged boy who lives across the street from Skunk. As it turns out, one of his two daughters – Sunshine (Bryant) and Susan (Kosky-Hensman) had a condom discovered in her room by dear old dad and to cover herself she accused Rick of raping her. The case was eventually dropped for lack of evidence but not until Rick began to break down emotionally and had to be committed, much to the dismay of his Dad (Lawson) and Mum (Burt) who seemingly has problems of her own coping.

Things begin to spiral into further troubles. Kasia breaks up with Mike who utilize Skunk as a kind of go-between in an effort to get Kasia back. Sunshine and Susan turn out to be nothing short of psychotic, bullying kids around school (and beating up Skunk), continuing to level false rape charges against others and in Susan’s case, getting pregnant by sleeping with Jed. But as Rick finally comes home, his fragile mental state is far more explosive than anyone could have predicted and the neighborhood will never be the same.

This is Norris’ first feature film. He’s been a successful stage director, so I was curious to see if the movie would look static and stage-y and it did in a couple of places, but not as much as you’d expect from someone with such a theatrical background. It helps a lot that he has a compelling story, some fine actors.

I’ve come to expect fine performances every time out from Roth and Murphy and they don’t disappoint here. Murphy’s Mike is far from perfect although he’s trying his darndest to be. He constantly tries to do the right thing, often with catastrophic consequences. In other words, just like thee and me.

Roth rarely gets the good guy roles; he’s usually a villain or a bulldog-like cop. Here he plays a loving father who is distracted by all the drama around him which nearly ends up in tragedy. He is trying to create a normal life for himself and his children in an environment that’s anything but. Roth gives Archie a kind and gentle manner, very loving and very protective although he can show some iron when he has to.

The real surprise here is Laurence. This is her first production, and she performs with the self-assurance of a grizzled veteran. She has an engaging presence that stands out onscreen, enabling her to hold her own with some pretty accomplished actors. I don’t know if Miss Laurence has any ambitions regarding a film career but she’s got a bright future if she chooses that path.

The denouement of the film was a little on the melodramatic side, and there are some scenes during the movie that don’t have the same intensity as other similar scenes in the movie. That however doesn’t diminish the overall impact of the film which is considerable.

This has been playing the festival circuit, although that aspect of it’s journey seems to be coming to an end. Film Movement, a tiny indie distributor, has the distribution rights to the film although as of yet any sort of theatrical run hasn’t been announced. Hopefully it will make a few big screens here and there before heading to home video. If not, be sure and catch it anyway – it’s a terrific film.

REASONS TO GO: Very taut, edge of your seat stuff. Fine performances from Roth, Laurence and Murphy.

REASONS TO STAY: Occasionally loses its focus.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s some sexuality (quite a bit actually), a fair amount of bad language, some teenage drinking and drug use and some violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The 2008 novel of the same name on which the movie was based was heavily influenced .by To Kill a Mockingbird according to author Daniel Clay.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/13/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 56% positive reviews. Metacritic: no score listed; while it appears the reaction is mixed, it’s still too early to tell for certain.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Lovely Bones

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Cockneys vs. Zombies