Why Netflix’s “Gerald’s Game” is Haunting

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This has been a banner year for adaptations of Stephen King horror works, with both “Dark Tower” and “It” captivating movie audiences in 2017. And now we have Netflix’s new “Gerald’s Game,” a film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name from 1992. “Gerald’s Game” is a psychological horror film from director Mike Flanagan (“Oculus,” “Hush”) and the result is haunting.

Netflix’s “Gerald’s Game” is so haunting because it captures the feeling of being helpless and trapped

The action kicks off with the married couple Gerald and Jessie Burlingame going for a vacation in the woods. Things turn a little kinky in the bedroom, as Gerald decides to handcuff his wife to the bed and carry out a rape fantasy while she’s wearing nothing more than some very sexy lingerie. Mid-way through, however, Gerald (played by Bruce Greenwood) has a heart attack and falls to the floor. That leaves Jessie (played by Carla Gugino) to figure out how to disentangle herself from this situation – she’s literally chained to the bed spread eagle, in the middle of nowhere, unable to call for help. Oh, and the front door also happens to be open, meaning that anyone – or anything – can wander in.

So much of the action is based on this terrifying scenario and the feeling of being helpless and trapped. How will Jessie break free? And how will she deal with strangers who enter the log cabin in the woods? The film is shot in such a way by Mike Flanagan to capture all of this terror and helplessness – he tries to create a suffocating feel to the action with his tight camera angles.

Netflix’s “Gerald’s Game” taps into deep, dark feelings that have been repressed inside the heroine’s mind

Where “Gerald’s Game” is scariest and most haunting, however, is when it shows us what is happening inside Jessie’s mind. She begins to hallucinate all kinds of things, and is clearly losing it. She imagines her husband Gerald speaking to her and taunting her, reminding her of some painful memories. She then begins to think that perhaps this is the real Gerald, and the two worlds – the real and the fictional – begin to clash.

It is much as if we are seeing a nervous breakdown in slow motion. It’s no wonder that Stephen King himself, after seeing an early rough cut of the film, called it “hypnotic” and “horrifying.” Where things get really horrifying, of course, is when Jessie begins to unlock all the deep, dark feelings that she has been hiding from herself ever since she was a young girl.

Netflix’s “Gerald’s Game” brings us face-to-face with the painful memories of sexual abuse

The kinky sexy games between Jessie and Gerald conjure up all kinds of memories that have lain dormant for so long. In this case, we are really seeing a form of sexual amnesia, in which Jessie remembers painfully how her father Tom sexually abused her when she was just 12 years old. We see the events play back in her memory, and it is truly haunting.

Netflix’s “Gerald’s Game” introduces the very haunting “man made of moonlight”

While Jessie is slowly breaking down and battling her inner demons, there is one more twist to this horror story – and that’s the arrival of “the man made of moonlight.” This is a Grim Reaper-like figure that shows up at her bedside. We learn that he is a deformed serial killer who digs up bodies and eats them. And he carries around a box of trinkets from his victims.

Jessie, as might be imagined, has no idea of what to do. She at first thinks that this figure – whom she names the “man made of moonlight” – is Death personified. It is the Grim Reaper, ready to take her with him to the underworld. Then, she suspects he might actually be real – and begins to come up with a plan to escape. She will offer up her wedding ring to him, if only he will help her escape her predicament.

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Netflix’s “Gerald’s Game” captures the horror of random violence

While much of the true terror and horror is taking place within the mind of Jessie, there are still elements of real-world horror that are too grisly even to mention in great detail. For example, remember how the door to the cabin in the woods is wide open? Well, it turns out that a stray dog wanders in and decides to bite a chunk out of the arm of her dead husband. That’s the kind of random violence that is really so haunting – the idea that pure evil can manifest itself like that, at a time when we are most vulnerable.

Netflix’s “Gerald Game” shows us the haunting ways any marriage could be hiding deep, painful secrets

What makes the movie especially haunting is the fact that it shows the degradation of a seemingly happy marriage. The beginning of the movie plays out much like a slickly-produced Viagra movie – handsome, older man takes beautiful wife to a romantic location to rekindle their marriage and pops a Viagra “when the moment is right.” But from there, the degradation begins.

How was Jessie to know that her husband secretly harbored rape fantasies? Or that he would attempt to torment her from beyond the grave? It turns out that their marriage was glossing over a lot of deep, painful secrets – and that Gerald knew a lot of ways to torment her without her even knowing it. There is a lot that goes on inside her mind, as she works to separate the “real” Gerald from the “fictional” Gerald. Is that really him tormenting her, or just her mind playing tricks on her?

“Gerald’s Game” is a great new horror film from Netflix

In the final analysis, “Gerald’s Game” is a great new addition to the Netflix horror genre. Mike Flanagan, who has earned the reputation of being a cult horror filmmaker for works like “Oculus” and “Hush,” certainly brings his A-game to his Netflix debut. He channels the darkest, most disturbing elements of the original Stephen King novel from 25 years ago, and the results are just absolutely haunting.

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