As mentioned in the picture below, it’s Stephen King. Things are about to get crazy. Unlike most thrillers, the opening of Gerald’s Game is cheerful. We have a peppy show tune to set the mood, and suitcases are being packed with summer clothes, bathing suits and handcuffs for a happy holiday. The tone is now set and the “Astaire-esque” melodies are still keeping me humbly optimistic. Deep in the back of my mind, I know something intense is coming, but I swear that I will not be able to live through another Fifty Shades of Grey. No worries.
A sleek apple-candy red Mercedes glides down a private and pleasantly shaded backroad and we meet Gerald and Jessie. So this is Gerald (Bruce Greenwood), the man with a “Game”. He is flirty and warm toward his beautiful counterpart, Jessie (Carla Gugino); however, she seems to sweetly shut him down in his foreplay. There is an audible groan somewhere, I just know there is. Gerald has done something wrong and is in mid-repentance, but what could it be? My woman brain tells me that he is an adulterous fiend who must be destroyed, but my Stephen King brain tells me it must go deeper than that…much deeper.
Mike Flanagan, thriller director extraordinaire—widely known for his directorial claims on Oculus, Before I Wake, and Ouija: Origin of Evil, to name a few—should be able to pull off a twisted King scheme. These were films that may not have kept us up at night, but they impressed everyone who watched, nonetheless. The gist of each was understood before the opening credits, but each story delved and dug filthy, broken, cemetery dirt-laden fingernails down, down and deeper down into a sick core that no-one saw coming. I’m sure many wondered if he could keep the fire burning for this Netflix attempt. Let’s give him a fair shot, shall we?
Back to the pleasantly awkward road trip, we were discussing. “This is going to be good for us, Jess”. But you just know that it won’t. If things were good for these people, they wouldn’t be in a Stephen King tale. Gerald almost runs over a straggly German Shepherd consuming roadkill in the middle of the street—cue the racing heartbeat! Gerald and Jessie roll up to a lake house that is altogether tranquil and serene. Anyone would be able to go there and relax. Our darling Gerald heads to the restroom to take a Viagra, while Jessie tries to coax the poor dog from before to come out and enjoy some ridiculously expensive steak. Husband and wife priorities can become a bit skewed at times, but in husbandly fashion, Gerald manages to locate lovely Jess, grabs her hand and we get our first dose of foreshadowing in the form of a camera angle that basically screams, “Look! She left the front door open! An intruder is now guaranteed!”
It is daylight still, which is not an abnormal time for carnal activities, but now I know the purpose of this getaway as if the handcuffs, in the beginning, weren’t enough of a hint. She has donned a brand new nightgown, tags still attached, while Gerald is a bit more comfortable in his boxer briefs. These are some good looking people, I must say. They have to be in their early 50s, but I could only hope to look like Jessie at that age. Gerald is fit, well-toned, and I do not see why either of these two should have any awkward feelings toward their marital bed, which goes to show that you never know what is going on behind closed doors. It is frightening to think of what could be happening behind the closed doors of a secluded location, where no-one could hear you scream.
Our intended lovemaking scene begins sincere and sweet. Gerald pulls out the handcuffs and things are about to get real, just as real as the handcuffs themselves. Gerald is thrilled to inform us of the fact that these are not your run-of-the-mill “adult novelty” fuzzy cuffs. No, these are meant to keep someone in place until the captor chooses a time of release. Regardless, our damsel is timid, but she is willing to engage in “Gerald’s Game”, and her wrists are cuffed to the bedposts. His game then evolves into a “rape” roleplay that Jess just was not ready for. When her husband’s dirty talk gets to be a little too dirty and his hands become a little too forceful, she is ready to be done with the game before it even really starts.
Our forceful foe backs off just a bit, takes a sip of water and puts the glass on the wooden mantle above the bed. Another heavy “zoom in” and that glass of water just became extremely important. Jess is now extremely upset and demands release. Gerald is now quite frustrated since the whole point of this trip was to spice things up and “push some boundaries”. I assume the sex life between these two has been a bit vanilla since its inception. Gerald may be even more upset than Jessie at this point. He starts breathing heavily. He won’t release her. His breathing is getting heavier and he begins rubbing his chest and stretching out his left arm. From a mile away, anyone can see that Gerald is getting ready to suffer a heart attack. Didn’t anyone ever tell him that erectile dysfunction medications are not recommended for those with heart conditions?
Gerald has expired whilst atop his bride, and she’s currently locked down with a two-point restraint system of his own design. She pushes the dead weight of her husband off of her body with her legs, and he ends up on the floor with a busted cranium emitting a puddle of blood. As much as she pleads and screams, Gerald will not get up and no-one is coming to save her. Gerald warned her that there was no-one around to help but remember—the door was left open and someone is coming.
It’s the dog. Our scraggly pooch has come to save the day and he does so by walking up to Gerald and taking a chunk out of his arm. Gerald does not approve of these shenanigans and gets up off of the floor to protest! Oh, the relief she must be feeling! Come on, now…Gerald’s dead.
This is all in her head. Gerald starts to tell a tasteless misogynistic joke, and if this is the kind of husband he was to her, then she should be glad he is gone, in my honest opinion. Why won’t she accept the fact that he is truly gone so she can move on and save herself? She asks, “What’s happening?” to which Gerald replies, “You’ve lost your mind. And you are doing what you always do, you run away”. Sick of his berating and his nagging, she squeezes a hand free from the cuffs and breaks the other bedpost in order to escape. She makes a defiant walk to the door and looks back. Come on, now…Jess is still cuffed to the bed.
All things considered, I have much more respect for this newly freed Jess. I will call her “Alter Jess”, as she is the tough-skinned alter ego of our prisoner. But I guess being tougher means that your words may come out a bit harsh. According to her, Jess has been “sleepwalking since she was twelve”. Well then, what on earth happened to Jess when she was 12? I remember being 12. That was a hard time full of menstrual cramps, assorted growing pains, acne and hurt feelings. But it was normal. I’m beginning to think the surface of her hellhole may be receiving a good scratch, and maybe 12 did not mean the same things for Jess as they may have meant for me.
Gerald reveals that “Everyone has a button they won’t admit they want pressed”. This is eerie. I say this because I don’t think he is wrong—it’s just something that no-one really says aloud, is it? Jess, however, does not have the time to spend all of her precious minutes on psychological debate. She has obviously got to figure out a way to get out of this predicament. And she is undoubtedly thirsty. Remember that glass of water that Gerald used to wet his whistle before unabashedly ruining everything?
Alter Jess is the embodiment of self-preservation and self-control to abstain from an overindulgence in available resources, ingenuity in times of desperation, and logical thinking in the throes of insanity, so solutions are always obtainable. But the prices that must be paid are stomach-churning at best. But alas, escape does not come swiftly or this would be a short film indeed. So she sleeps.
So, do you remember me telling you that the door was still open? The dog apparently did not think to pull it closed behind him, and I am incensed by how inconsiderate this beast has turned out to be. But even our fuzzy miscreant is disturbed by the presence of the giant, misshapen creature (Carel Struycken) standing in the corner of the night-darkened bedroom. This phantom—if he is, in fact, a figment of Jess’ deranged mind—holds a box of curiosities. I can assure you that the contents are interesting, to say the least, and he is quite pleased with his treasures.
Jess is finally coming to the realization that due to her current circumstances if someone wants to come into the house and touch her, there is nothing she can do about it. This realization comes to her mind as a word from her sponsor, Gerald, who then refers to her as “mouse”.
“Don’t call me that”.
Jess’ father used to call her “mouse”. So now we know that daddy is an issue, but the reason why is not yet clear. We enter a flashback to a lake vacation, where 12-year-old Jessie and her family are set to watch the solar eclipse. Mom has a plan for the family to go out on the lake in their boat to witness the spectacle. Father and daughter lounge on a swing reminiscing about when she was little and how she would sit on his lap. “I know you’re grown now, but I miss my little girl”. At this age, young men and women experience this fact of life: we have sexual bodies that mature at a much faster rate than our sexual mind, which in and of itself, is traumatizing for all of us. I know for a fact that Jessie has mixed feelings. She is afraid to grow up, but also excited about it. This is all so very normal. What happens to her next, is not.
Present-day Jessie has an unhealthy mental state and it was apparent from the beginning of the film. You could even call her weak. She just seems to give in and give up with ease. But you see, when Jessie was 12, she decided to sit on her daddy’s lap so that he could have his “little girl” once more. And when the sun was overcome by darkness, Jessie’s childhood was snuffed out. And when the solar eclipse reached totality, so did the father, at the expense of the daughter. “He smelled the blood and he did what dogs do”, as Alter Jess so aptly describes.
The abuse that she suffered at the hands of her father—the one who should have been there to save her from the snakes of a diseased world—makes me sick of mind and sick of heart, and all I want is for Jessie to snap back from these memories. Assault aside, the psychological holocaust rent upon her preteen mind by this monster afterwards is just as filthy and cruel as the act itself. It is a disturbing and sad thing to watch.
Jessie’s situation in the present is becoming dire, but she has Gerald and Alter Jess there to see this through alongside her. But I do not think that Jessie is going to be able to get out of this until she realizes the strengths she does have; the things she needs to survive. One of these is being able to finally admit that her father was an abomination, a sick man with a black heart. She refuses to blame her father for what happened. She blames herself for her sundress being too short, changing into long sleeves and jeans in shame and guilt. But the sun will always come out again.
“You looked away from me when admitting what you did. You only looked me in the eye when the lies were coming out”. The blame is finally being placed on the head of the one who truly sinned and she now has the strength to be free. But do not forget, a price must be paid, and this price made my stomach turn and flip, so I bid ado to the contents of yours. The corner creeper returns and we now know him as “Moonlight Man”. He still could be a mirage, a phantom of sorts. But regardless, he has returned with his box of pretty things and he requires payment, which Jessie willingly pays.
This film accomplished several things for me. It reiterates what we all know. Our minds contain the invaluable power to protect us even in the darkest of times. Our minds can overcome the dirtiest dirt that people throw upon our caskets, where they leave us alive, yet struggling and screaming.
In Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of Gerald’s Game, Jessie was shackled to a bed. From age 12, she was shackled by the silence imbibed on her by a deviant father. In her marriage, she was shackled by Gerald, a man who gave comfort by way of belittlement and control, which is all she felt she deserved. What holds us back from living a life worth living can come in many shackling forms. Jessie was never able to truly face the ones who held her back. But what about the “Moonlight Man”? Did she ever confront him?
“You’re not real”.
“You’re only made of moonlight”.