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A review of "Gerald's Game" (2017)

The Internet's wrong.  Gerald's Game is not a good movie.

I can see why you might be tricked, though.  It looks nice; helmed by fellow Marylander and otherwise excellent writer/director Mike Flanagan, the movie is crisply shot and paced.  The plot ratchets up the tension in the first half with perfect little morsels of terror.  And no matter how ridiculous the premise gets, it's anchored by excellent performances.

So, sure, there are merits here.  In fact, there are even a handful of truly horrifying scares that'll punch you in the guts.

But then the third act hits... and oh, man, does it ever Stephen King the ending.

Let's back up a minute and revisit the good so you can fully appreciate just how badly it goes off a cliff.  It starts with Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood getting ready for a romantic weekend getaway in the woods, hoping to spice up their slowly-fading marriage.  Greenwood, the titular Gerald, handcuffs his wife to the bed so he can indulge in some surprise rape fantasy.

Sidebar: I feel like this has come up on this blog a couple of times now, and I can only chalk it up to bad advice from the Internet.  What kind of moron just springs a rape fantasy on his partner without selling it ahead of time?  That's hostage situation level negotiation, buddy.  At the very least you need to throw out a couple of "Gosh, honey, wouldn't it be funny if..."s so you can start to normalize it.  Did you whip out a fire poker and mayonnaise out of nowhere, too?  Fucking idiot.


Anyway, Gerald has a heart attack and dies, leaving his wife, Jessie, handcuffed and trapped.  Matters get worse when a feral dog wanders into the house and starts ominously eyeing her, and then things take an extra spooky turn that night when Jessie sees a creepy figure looming over her from a corner.  Thinking she's just imagining things, she starts referring to the figure as the "Moonlight Man" and brushes him off as a figment of her imagination.

Then somewhere around here you find out that Jessie was sexually abused by her dad as a kid, and that's when you realize this is a ~~ !!!!! SURPRISE CHILD MOLESTATION MOVIE !!!!! ~~ and you go, "Well, shit, that's not quite the horror I was looking for tonight."  But, hey, the movie's doing what it's doing and there's still some creepy shit to look forward to, so... I guess we'll keep watching?

And the imagery in Jessie's flashbacks gets kinda fucked up, and the Moonlight Man stuff is legitimately terrifying, and he's kept just enough in the shadows that you don't know for sure if he's real or not, and it's implied that he's going to cut off her fingers and steal her wedding ring, and you find yourself thinking, "Huh, a good Stephen King adaptation.  That only happens like once every ten years.  Nice!"

Ah.  But you haven't gotten to the ending yet, y'see.  And I guess if you really want to feel the 180 and find yourself hate-watching Gerald's Game, now's the point where I say "spoiler alert!" and you go watch for yourself.




So, Jessie performs a horrible, gross, bloody glass-gouging maneuver on one hand to get it free of her handcuffs, then uses her limited freedom to get out of the other set of handcuffs and get to her car.  While driving in a state of delirium brought on by dehydration and blood loss, she crashes.  The screen goes black.  You're on the edge of your seat.

And then one of the stupidest voiceovers in film history commences.

Jessie starts going into a detailed, point-by-point recap of everything that happened after the crash while a montage underneath fills us in on basically a year or more of the aftermath.  Turns out Jessie's doing just fine.  She mostly recovered from her injuries and has dedicated her life to a non-profit that provides support and resources for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  Nice, right?

This reveal is presented totally straight-faced, as if it's perfectly acceptable to spend ninety-five minutes on a terse movie with a two-day window and then cap it off with a five minute montage that lazily info-dumps all of the exposition it couldn't possibly fit into the movie organically.

But worse than that - in those five minutes, it manages to take the Moonlight Man, the creepy specter of death and horror that made you shit your pants just a little bit ago, and totally demystify him.  Jessie goes into painstaking detail to tell you that yes, the Moonlight Man was real, and he was actually a mentally disturbed serial killer with a tragic origin, and she describes his whole back story and how investigators found him and tracked his history and put him in jail, and now he's being sentenced for his crimes.  So, while the narration is going on, we see Jessie barge into his sentencing - without any bailiffs or officers or anybody stopping her - and walk straight up to him in the courtroom, interrupt the judge, and provoke Mr. MM to snap off his restraints so he can say "Hi" to her, causing havoc and probably a good cause for the sentencing to be appealed, all so she can smile and go, "Huh, guess I faced my demon.  Welp, time to take a nap," followed up by her casually leaving the courtroom - again, without anybody stopping her or asking her why the fuck are you interrupting the sentencing of a serial killer - so she can walk straight down the centerline of a public road and live happily ever after.

I mean, what the fucking fuck, guys.

You can't just fade to black and then have your protagonist go, "Okay, I'ma explain some shit, you sit tight and pretend to still be scurred."  That's not an ending.  That's barely even a cop out.  That's like a cop out's cop out.

And I don't care if that's how the book ended.  Stephen King's endings are garbage, you should know this by now.  You always have to change his endings.

You know how you end this movie?  It's super easy, and much less expensive than all that other bullshit I just recapped.  All you do is, you fade back in to a scene of Jessie sitting in her new non-profit's office and talking to a new client.  Do a quick title over that says "Six months later..." and give us just a quick glimpse of what she does.  You catch her mid-conversation, picking up with something like, "I know it's tough, but if you want to regain your power, you start by regaining your voice," and you realize, "Oh, hey, I think she's doing something positive now."  Then she wraps up, and her assistant says, "Officer Carlson wanted to see you," and a cop comes in and asks her how she's doing.  Jessie casually deflects.  "Oh, you know, hanging in there.  It's getting a little easier."  That kinda thing.  Carlson explains that they've finished their investigation at the lake house, so Jessie's free to sell it - or some other dry, boring technical detail - and Carlson wishes her well, and says goodbye.

...but then, he stops dramatically before leaving, and he goes, "But you know, there's something I still don't get.  We had two dozen officers go over every inch of that property, and we never did find your wedding ring."

And then Jessie tries to just play it off like, "Wow, what a weird mystery," but you can see in her eyes that some horror will always linger, and the uncertainty about whether the Moonlight Man is real or not is always going to haunt her.  And now, you're still shitting your pants, and the credits roll.

What's so hard about that?  Give me an ambiguous horror ending over a half-baked, barely-empowering "face your demons" montage any day.  It's an effective way to ruin your movie, I'll give you that.

My Rating: 2 / 5