A Sexy Getaway Goes Horribly Wrong in This Netflix Film
DIRECTED BY MIKE FLANAGAN/2017
If you’re looking for something spooky and psychological on Netflix this October you should check out Gerald’s Game. Based on the book by Stephen King, Gerald’s Game tells the story of a couple in crisis which reaches its climax on a romantic getaway. Jess, played by Carla Gugino, is the gentle and underestimated wife of a successful lawyer.
The film hints early on at the divide in their relationship as they drive to their summer home in the woods. They come upon a stray dog in the road and Jess screams at Gerald to stop the car. He stops to let the dog out of the way. It is obvious the dog has been drawn to the road by road kill and Jess expresses concern that the animal is probably starving. Gerald tells her firmly to forget about it because they won’t be turning around to help it.
Later, at the house Jess takes some steak out of the fridge, cut it up and takes it outside looking for the dog. The dog shows up just about the same time Gerald comes out of the house to chastise her for wasting a $400 steak on a dog. Jess doesn’t seem to think this is a waste at all but plays along as her husband infantilizes her. The audience gets the sense this is just how their relationship works.
The point of the getaway is to re-establish the romance in their relationship. Gerald thinks the best way to do this is to handcuff his wife to the bed and pop a Viagra . . . or two. Jess is obviously uncomfortable with this arrangement from the onset. She remarks anxiously on the strong security of the cuffs and Gerald assures her with a frightening smirk that this is precisely what he requires for what he has planned. As Gerald begins to fondle her, Jess becomes visibly unnerved and tells him that she wants to stop.
Gerald pretends that her protests are a part of his game, even though he knows they are real, until Jess finally bites and angers him causing him to stop. Gerald then bemoans the state of their relationship just before dropping dead from a heart attack, presumably courtesy of Viagra and steak, leaving Jess in a 127 Hours-esque scenario. What follows is a gripping psychological journey through Jess’s conscious and unconscious self. Jess confronts the demons of her past and the grim specter of her future armed only with what’s left of her wits after decades of mental and emotional abuse.
Don’t worry, there’s plenty of horror and nail-biting suspense throughout. But the MVP of the film is Gugino’s poignant performance as a woman in literal crisis. The film journeys from horror to acceptance to grit and back again in a uniquely feminine way and Gugino as the conduit of all these emotions is both an inspiration and a cautionary tale. She walks through scenes from her past the way that any woman bound by convention and family values often does and in the moment of imminent death the captivity that she surrendered herself to seems obviously self-destructive, though, at the time it was about survival.
In her subconscious journey, Jess realizes that freedom lies in her voice, not her silence, which is a powerful message. That said, the end of the film left me a little unsatisfied as it rushed to tie up loose ends. The best thing about the movie is the questions it asks, not the ones it answers and the last ten minutes feel too much like a conclusion for my liking. But all in all, I would watch it again. This film puts the female existential crisis front and center, like most great feminist horror, and I’ll take that over a slasher flick any day of the week. If you think male existential crises are scary, you’re in for a treat.