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A middle-aged couple, Jessie and Gerald Burlingame (Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood) goes to a remote lake house to try and spice up their marriage. As they drive, Gerald nearly hits a stray, hungry dog on the path to the house. Gerald has brought handcuffs and takes a Viagra tablet, planning for a kinky night of rough passion. As he starts to play, Jessie becomes uncomfortable and demands he let her out of the cuffs.
They begin to argue, each blaming the other for the state of their relationship. As they argue, Gerald suddenly clasps his chest. He has a heart attack and dies. Jessie is still handcuffed to the bed. As she desperately tries to free herself, her mind starts to play tricks on her.
She sees her dead husband and a more assertive version of herself. They tell her how to stay alive. The stray dog comes into the bedroom and starts eating bits of Gerald, much to Jessie’s dismay.
She falls asleep as night falls. Waking momentarily, she sees a misshapen man (Stacey Struycken) leering at her. Gerald, the one in her head, tells her it is death. She falls asleep again and remembers herself as a twelve-year-old girl (Chiara Aurelia) and an unsavoury incident with her father.
Awake the next day, she sees Gerald and her other self again. They grill her about her childhood and her father’s inappropriate behaviour. She falls asleep again.
She is twelve again. Her father is apologising for masturbating on her. He manipulates her, saying that they need to tell her mother. She refuses. He pushes her to tell, saying that she will tell someone at some point and that they should tell her mother. Jessie begs him not to say anything. He agrees and says they should make a pact never to tell anyone.
She is awoken by the dog licking her foot. Freaking out, she kicks the dog away again. She only sees Gerald. Her assertive, pragmatic self is nowhere to be seen. He tells her that death is stalking her, waiting for her to expire. She sees the misshapen man again and then falls asleep once more.
She is an adult and sees herself as a child. She talks to her young self. Young Jessie gives her a clue as to what to do to escape. Awake again, both Gerald and her assertive self are back. She slits one wrist with broken glass and slips her hand out of the cuffs.
She escapes the cuffs and is bleeding heavily. She bandages her damaged hand and goes to get the car keys, but collapses from blood loss and dehydration. When she wakes up, the stray dog is there and distressed by something in the house.
She sees the misshapen man at the end of the corridor. She has to go past him. She gets the car keys and gives him her wedding ring as she walks past. She drives off, still weak from her ordeal. She crashes into a tree in the woods. She is found and returns to normal life.
Back in the normal world, she sets up a foundation to help abused youngster so as they do not have to go through what she went through. She also finds out that the misshapen man she saw was real.
He turned out to be a particularly macabre serial killer and sexual deviant, with a rare disease that caused his disfigurement. At his court case, she turns up to face him and, in doing so defeats her personal demons. The end.
Gerald’s Game—another questionable title for a film—is a lot better than perhaps my synopsis of the film would have you think. Carla Gugino’s central performance is riveting. She is ably assisted by Bruce Greenwood and dual herself. The film is pretty much set in one room, but still manages to move at a good pace, with the story of Jessie’s psychological battle with her demons and her mind trying to work out how to stay alive and escape quite gripping.
Bruce Greenwood is brilliant as Jessie’s doubting voice, goading her, allowing her to hide, from herself, her own mental weakness. Chiara Aurelia’s young Jessie is good as well, especially in the uncomfortable eclipse scene, sitting on her father, Tom’s—a creepy Henry Thomas—lap.
From a Stephen King story, the script by Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard, with directing duties also falling to Mike Flanagan, is expertly crafted. The camera pretty much stays on Gugino’s Jessie chained to the bed, close-ups and full body shots giving a sense of loneliness and desperation. The mind games also give create a distortion of time.
The film does fall apart a little at the end, with the epilogue and the explanation of the misshapen man, which was a cop-out and took away from the power of the preceding ninety minutes somewhat.
The film, however, is about Carla Gugino. She keeps you watching and puts in an incredible and believable performance. Gerald’s Game is an enjoyable film at 103 minutes runtime and is worth seeing for Gugino’s turn alone.