Overlooked: Gerald’s Game

This film has the scariest monster of them all

Overlooked: <i>Gerald’s Game</i>

Content warning: references to sexual assault.

I love horror movies. I love everything from the super cheesy ’80s slasher flicks, to the most twisted and intense psychological horrors — provided, of course, that they don’t demonize people with mental illnesses.

But alas, my deep disappointment with horror is the treatment of women and sexual violence. Women’s bodies become ragdolls to be thrown around, either to fuel male emotion or for the sake of pure shock value. Women’s sexuality too often becomes the deciding factor in who gets to survive until the end, with the virginal ‘final girl’ rewarded for chastity while still being heavily sexualized.

Enter Gerald’s Game, the 2017 Netflix horror and thriller based on Stephen King’s 1992 novel of the same name. The setup is easy enough to follow: Jessie (Carla Gugino) and her husband, Gerald (Bruce Greenwood), decide to take a romantic vacation to a lake house in the middle of nowhere, as many ill-fated couples do.

The game in question comes when Gerald decides to put Jessie in a pair of handcuffs for some roleplaying. Jessie agrees, then becomes uncomfortable. The two argue and suddenly, Gerald drops dead.

Handcuffed to the bed and totally alone, Jessie could easily be the chained-up prey of any would-be killer from a film more entrenched in the stereotypes of the genre. Instead, Jessie is forced to confront the truth about her life: her failing marriage to Gerald, her history of being sexually abused as a child, and the silence with which she has endured all of it.

Rather than be an object of disgust, horror, or shock, Jessie’s trauma is simply presented as it is, with Jessie’s fear stemming from the silence she has been forced into all her life.

There are some old-fashioned scares as well, with Jessie hallucinating the ghost of her dead husband and being interrupted by a grave robber and serial killer in search of treasures, but ultimately, the movie is Jessie’s journey.

Gerald’s Game is an intensely realistic examination of memory and trauma. The lead female character is never an accessory to another’s story or shamed for her choices.

This is the kind of story we need right now, the kind that knows how to scare you without any cheap tricks or jump scares. The scary monster is, in the end, what Jessie has to live with: silence, shame, and trauma.

An alternative movie list for Halloween

Hereditary is going to be the next cult classic in the Halloween film genre

An alternative movie list for Halloween

Sometimes, we need to prepare ourselves to watch a movie. That’s why we marathon all eight Harry Potter movies before any new Fantastic Beasts release and why we watch all the Star Wars movies before a new addition to the franchise.

But when a new movie doesn’t come with others backing it up, we construct makeshift watchlists. Here is one to prepare you for Hereditary, a horror movie that is already out. Due to its success, it will most likely be one of the biggest Halloween-esque films in decades.

It is this standalone property that makes Hereditary, and movies like it, all the more special, so I made it a rule for this list.

I realized it would be much harder to compile a list when most films are either remakes, sequels, or prequels, but I stuck with it. Some honourable mentions that unfortunately didn’t fit the bill are the 2013 Evil Dead remake and 2016’s The Conjuring 2.

Three rules for this Hereditary pre-watch list: the film had to be released in the 2010s, it had to be a standalone, and it had to fit the horror genre — no thrillers. Sorry, you won’t find Green Room or Don’t Breathe on here.

1. The Babadook, 2014 — directed by Jennifer Kent, Australia

You’ve probably heard of The Babadook. In the four years since its release, it has acquired a sort of cult following. And for good reason. The Babadook follows a mother and son duo who find an eerie storybook on their doorstep one day. What ensues is a haunting by a boogeyman that makes for innovative scares.

One of the reasons I appreciate The Babadook as much as I do — and why I think it is perfect for this list — is that it really utilizes the most that it can within the film medium to make your body literally shiver from fright.

You cover your ears when you’re scared in anticipation of loud noise?

That’s fine; The Babadook has imagery that will tattoo itself onto your consciousness.

You cover your eyes when you’re scared in anticipation of such tantalizing imagery?

That’s fine; The Babadook arguably has the most unsettling sound effects that will condition you to grow anxious, like when you hear nails on a chalkboard.

And the best part? Absolutely no jump scares. All of the thrills in The Babadook are created thanks to tension and storyline.

Yes, it really is that good.

2. Under the Shadows, 2016 — directed by Babak Anvari, Iran

If The Babadook seems a little overwhelming to you, it’s best to start off with Under the Shadows, a simple yet effective Iranian horror movie that showcases its horror in the same manner, but in a significantly less intense way. In a war-torn Tehran in the ’80s, a mother and daughter must stick together and battle an evil that presents itself within their apartment building.

Not only is Under the Shadows an incredibly clear cultural vignette of a city divided by war, but it perfectly balances political commentary with complex family dynamics and good, old-fashioned horror. Under the Shadows is a lot easier to watch than The Babadook, but it is nonetheless an extremely effective horror movie.

3. The Witch, 2015 — directed by Robert Eggers, US

The Witch received a limited release in 2015; it was a revelation of a horror movie. The Witch is as much a period piece as it is a horror movie: set in 1630s Puritan New England, a family is plagued by a witch — or are they? — and they begin to grow distrustful of each other, leading to a horrifyingly memorable finale.

The Witch, like The Babadook and Under the Shadows, relies on a calculated storyline, a well-curated score, and cinematography to instill tension.

There are no jump scares or cheap loud noises. The fear is warranted. And don’t believe the buzz, because The Witch is incredibly watchable. You’ll be hooked from the first minute.

4. Raw, 2016 — directed by Julia Ducournau, France

I was a little hesitant about putting Raw on this list. On the surface, it doesn’t appear to have many fantastical aspects. But once you delve further into its reality and the story arcs that Julia Ducournau expertly builds, you come to find yourself facing a world that is nothing like our own, and yet eerily similar.

Raw follows a young girl, raised by a family of cult-like vegetarians, as she enters her first year of veterinarian school. There, she must wade through new and foreign temptations to find out who she really is.

Despite what the title may suggest, Raw is not solely a dissertation on vegetarianism. The film examines the awakening of identity and hunger, both literal and spiritual. It does so in such inconspicuous ways that the moral of the story hits you rudely only after you’ve finished watching.

What makes Raw so scary is that it is essentially the product of feeding Western society and norms through a distorted filter. It feels familiar but doesn’t look like it.

In short, Raw is the funhouse-mirror reflection of human nature and obsession, and if that doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will.

It’s also gory — beware.

5. The Wailing, 2016 — directed by Na Hong-jin, South Korea

I am not going to mince words or wax poetic. The Wailing is, by far, the scariest and the most astonishing movie I have ever seen. It is also criminally underrated, and so I hope that if you consider yourself even a slight horror fan, you’ll give this treasure a watch.

The Wailing has a runtime of two and a half hours and follows a detective in a small village in South Korea as he handles what can only be called a zombie-like disease outbreak. But this is not a zombie movie in the slightest. The villagers suspect that an old Japanese man, a recent immigrant, is the cause of the virus and, as you can predict, madness ensues.

The Wailing examines xenophobia and paranoia better than any political drama ever could. The film references the relations between Japan and South Korea, the use and reliance of shamans, and overall spirituality and religion in South Korean society. It forces you to become vulnerable, to give yourself up to the narrative and reality of the story. And once it makes you vulnerable, it bombards you with one horrific scene after another.

It is riveting and jaw-dropping, with no unnecessary jump scares. The Wailing is the perfect film to get you prepared for any further ­­— potential — horror you may see in Hereditary.

When you can’t make it to the drive-in, the sofa is a great place to spend a lazy summer evening

A perfect movie for capturing every summer vibe

When you can’t make it to the drive-in, the sofa is a great place to spend a lazy summer evening

Here’s a list of movies for all your summer watching needs.

For beach vibes: Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Honourable mention: The Descendants

Forgetting Sarah Marshall is set in balmy Hawaii, amid palm trees and dreamy ocean waves. Between Kristen Bell in a pink bikini and Mila Kunis with a white tropical flower tucked behind her ear, this movie is sure to make you wish you could leave city life behind to join the characters in a warm haze of sand, cocktails, and bathing suits. Also, Paul Rudd as a surf instructor is officially my summer chillness guru.

For thriller vibes: Jaws

Honourable mention: I Know What You Did Last Summer

Famously featuring a great white shark devastating unwitting beachgoers, this movie is ideal for those of us who want to both get in the summer spirit and are in the mood for mystery and suspense. With its marvellously tense soundtrack mingled with a summer resort aesthetic, Jaws is a great way to add a surreal creepiness to an otherwise tranquil summer day.

For romance vibes: Call Me by Your Name

Honourable mention: (500) Days of Summer

Set in the small town of Crema in northern Italy, this movie is a delicious exploration of the ups and downs of summer love. Call Me by Your Name captures the salacious heat of summertime lust, the playfulness of a fast-paced friendship, and the excitement of pursuing someone forbidden. You can witness the blissful sensuality of falling in love against a technicolour backdrop of tall grasses and shaded ponds. It also isn’t a real summer romance film unless there’s a strange sex scene involving fruit, and Call Me by Your Name certainly delivers on that front.  

For innocent Disney vibes: Moana

Honourable mention: Lilo and Stitch

It’s an animated movie about a strong young woman embracing her passion for the ocean by defying the confining boundaries of her island — you can’t watch it without developing an unshakeable desire for adventure. Featuring a dazzling but deadly crab, a beautiful grass-covered goddess who finds her heart, and songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda at his finest — Moana inspires you to take the voyage across the ocean — whatever your own metaphorical ocean may be.

For horror vibes: It

Honourable mention: Friday the 13th

This coming-of-age movie about finding friendship during a time of adversity is often punctuated by characters groaning that it’s summer break, a time for relaxing and having fun, not fighting monsters. It is perfect for those of us who disagree and think the whole point of summer break is fighting monsters.   

For showbiz glam vibes: Almost Famous

Honourable mention: La La Land

If summer is the time when you repress all the biology facts you’ve been cramming in your brain and return to your childhood fantasies of living a rock-and-roll lifestyle, this is the movie for cultivating your delusions. Almost Famous is about a young hopeful journalist on the road with a bus full of washed-up rockstars and glamorous groupies — the summer road trip of your dreams.

For childhood nostalgia vibes: High School Musical 2

Honourable mention: The Parent Trap

This movie asks “what time is it?” for us to all yell back, in perfect unison, “SUMMERTIME!” High School Musical 2 has a song for every summer scenario: summer job doldrums, perfecting that fabulous poolside aesthetic, the inevitable breakup after a summer romance fizzles, angsty soul searching on the golf course, and, for some reason, a “pineapple princess” pining after a fish with a long, complicated Hawaiian name.

For ‘80s classics vibes: Dirty Dancing

Honourable mention: National Lampoon’s Vacation

With its iconic soundtrack and killer dance numbers, this movie will make you long for those days of family vacations. Except this time, instead of wasting your holiday sunbathing and begging your older sister to sneak you mojitos from the bar, you could be falling in love with the resort’s dance instructor to the tune of your favourite ‘80s pop songs.

For teenage revelry vibes: Meatballs

Honourable mention: American Pie 2

If summer makes you nostalgic for high school (shudder), then you probably spent your teenage years partying at your friend’s beach house, or drunkenly singing songs around a bonfire. Meatballs, however, will make you wish you had spent your summers as a camp counsellor — the main duties of which are apparently playing pranks and scoring chicks. This film will make you pine for the semi-innocence of those blissful teenaged summers.

For musical vibes: Mamma Mia

Honourable mention: Grease

Amanda Seyfried’s character is a makeup-free, beachy-haired goddess who always has a bathing suit on underneath her white summery blouse, in case she needs to frantically chase after a retreating boat. Spoiler: she does. She lives on a fictional Greek island called “Kalokairi” that is essentially a slice of heaven. The crystalline ocean and Mediterranean architecture of the island would also make me want to periodically burst into song. To me, the soundtrack to this movie is the soundtrack of summer.