Based on Stephen King’s novel, director Mike Flanagan crafts Gerald’s Game into an intense and claustrophobic thriller primarily set in a single room of a secluded lake house. Embarking on a weekend trip, married couple Jessie (Carla Gugino) and Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) hope to spruce up their sex life, albeit with a set of legitimate handcuffs involved. After taking one too many Viagra pills and initial foreplay turning into a heated quarrel, Gerald drops dead with Jessie chained to the bedpost. Flanagan successfully unravels the next hour and a half of the film into a time restricted struggle for Jessie to attempt to escape her confines, as well as a means for Jessie to contemplate her decade long shackled marriage and suppressed childhood memories into a force that paves a path for survival.
Flanagan’s use of a solitary bedroom as the film’s prominent setting and Jessie’s limited mobility or aid of tools (save for a single glass of water perched above her head) provide an unsettling and suffocating mood, not to mention her visitors being a hungry flesh-eating stray dog and a looming death-like stranger who appears in her room at night. Rather than relying on convenient gags or a spooky soundtrack, the viewers are left with a very realistic approach to putting oneself in Jessie’s cuffs, consistently asking the question “what would I do in this situation?” as each hour ticks by. As panic and dehydration inevitably take their toll, a semblance of Jessie’s dead husband as well as a more rational and assertive vision of herself play back and forth as we gain further insight into her restricted marriage and her ability to hide inward based on past traumatic experiences. Within Jessie lies the ability to recall Gerald’s stifling words, quenching her personality into that of a subservient wife. Yet her alternate voice allows her to focus and stay calm in the situation, persisting where she may have submitted to giving up.
Drawing forth flashbacks to her childhood memories with her father opens a curtain of humanity to the story with young Jessie (Chiara Aurelia)’s stellar performance revealing her inner strength yet subdued nature in light of her father’s sexual abuse. Growing up with a mother who ignored her or frequently found her a nuisance, teenage Jessie had relied on her father for love and companionship until he took advantage of her innocence. Gerald’s Game swiftly ties together the vast and lasting effects a parent’s example of what it means to love and to trust can have on a child’s future and relationships. While there are a couple convenient scenes and a particularly gruesome stand out that I had to shy my eyes away from, Gerald’s Game remains an excellent feature at exploring the psychological nature of survival and instinct without indulging in the bleakness casting a complete shadow on the human spirit and our uncontained light and strength when it comes to our will to live.