This Is a Movie Review: Gerald’s Game

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CREDIT: Netflix

This review was originally posted on News Cult in September 2017.

Starring: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood

Director: Mike Flanagan

Running Time: 103 Minutes

Rating: Unrated, But It Would Easily Be an R for Cuttingly Physical and Psychological Entrapment

Release Date: September 29, 2017 (Streaming on Netflix)

If you watch Netflix’s new movie Gerald Game, chances are you might do so on a computer. Often in such a viewing scenario, it is advisable to wear headphones to get the full aural experience. But in this case, it must be noted that that full experience might be unbearable. Bones are squeezed, flesh and blood is squished around, and the sound mix does not hold back in making all that as nauseating as possible. I generally have decent fortitude when it comes to horror grossness, but I had to look away and unplug my headphones for significant stretches. In case there was any doubt, a personal computer is more penetrative than a public theater.

Based on a 1992 Stephen King novel, the setup of Gerald’s Game is viciously simple. Jessie (Carla Gugino) and her husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) head up to a remote cabin to spice up their marriage with a little S&M. He handcuffs her to the bed, but before they can get going, he has a heart attack and dies. And thus the majority of the running time is devoted to Jessie’s attempts to break free.

Gugino is mostly on her own for about an hour and a half, but she does have some visitors, whether real, hallucinated, or remembered. A feral, hungry dog is a nuisance that pays no respect to the dead. Jessie’s internal back-and-forth monologue assessing her chances of escape is represented by the most oppressive version of Gerald convincing her she can’t do it and the most confident version of herself discovering that there might just be a way.

Occasionally Jessie falls asleep, revealing repressed memories of her father (Henry Thomas) sexually abusing her when she was a teenager, which turn out to be the key for how to save herself. This is fascinating, and filled with striking symbolic imagery, but it is also maddening, a classic example of King at his most on-the-nose. Furthermore, it begs the question: why does Gerald’s Game even need the backstory? The action could easily be contained to what is actually physically happening in the room. Although, to be fair, not everyone has the patience or the stomach to withstand this story without any breaks. Ultimately, there are two legitimate of presenting this premise, and considering the one not taken remains for now a fruitful “what if.”

At the end, there is a huge exposition dump that confirms the existence of another villain (Twin Peaks’ Carel Struycken) who easily could have (and probably should have) had his own movie. He is actually present throughout the film, but it sure does not feel that way once it is explained what his deal is. This conclusion comes out of nowhere and serves no narrative purpose other than allowing Jessie to stand up to one more roadblock. Still, despite this and other odd detours, Gerald’s Game is high-quality claustrophobic horror and a powerhouse showcase for Gugino.

Gerald’s Game is Recommended If You Like: Saw, You’re Next, The flashback scenes in Split

Grade: 3 out of 5 Slices of Kobe Beef

This Is a Movie Review: The Space Between Us

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This post was originally published on News Cult in 2017.

Starring: Asa Butterfield, Britt Robertson, Gary Oldman, Carla Gugino, B.D. Wong

Director: Peter Chesolm

Running Time: 120 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Intense Re-Entry

Release Date: February 3, 2017

If an astronaut on her way to Mars turned out to have gotten pregnant just before departure, would your first thought be how mortified she must be of her irresponsibility? If you said yes, you might just be Gary Oldman in The Space Between Us. In the moment, that sentiment is a little disturbing and quite backwards. Eventually it becomes clear why Oldman – the man behind this Martian colonization effort – reacts this way, and it is somewhat reasonable but also still a little patronizing.

That lack of progressiveness also plagues Space’s vision of the future. Beyond the fact that travel to Mars is reasonably accessible, there is not much to distinguish this vision of Earth from the 2017 version. The only new technology appears to be the latest generation of tablets. To paraphrase Tom Servo: so… 30 years from now it’ll be 3 years from now? I guess that’s what you get when you hire the director of Hannah Montana: The Movie to try his hand at sci-fi. The Space Between Us is decidedly NOT the best of both worlds.

The dearth of futuristic imagination can partially be justified by the fact that Space mostly chooses to be a road trip film through the southwestern U.S. The deal here is that Asa Butterfield (Ender in Ender’s Game) is the Martian-born son of that pregnant astronaut, and he is visiting Earth for the first time after growing up for his first 16 years on the red planet. He is supposed to be held at NASA for observation to determine if his bones can handle the new atmosphere, but he is too in love to be contained by The Man.

So Butterfield and Britt Robertson (Hollywood’s current go-to for all-American gals) go on the run from Oldman and his team to discover the truth behind Butterfield’s origins and just to be free. There is actually a great germ of a story here about how love knows no bounds (and Butterfield plays the slightly alien fish-out-of-water quite naturally) but the implementation is rather plainly prosaic. Also, everyone is genuinely looking out for the best of our Martian child, and a major revelation that resolves every misunderstanding is held off unnaturally for the sake of driving conflict. But at least we know now how passionately Gary Oldman feels about going to Mars.

The Space Between Us is Recommended If You Like: Gary Oldman getting all worked up, Britt Robertson playing the girl next door, the Asa Butterfield Space Genre

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Space Colonies