**SPOILERS AHEAD. I’ve tried to leave things sort of ambiguous but if you want to watch this movie, I wouldn’t read this review first.**
Quick Synopsis stolen from IMDB: When a harmless game between a married couple in a remote retreat suddenly becomes a harrowing fight for survival, wife Jessie must confront long-buried demons within her own mind – and possibly lurking in the shadows of her seemingly empty house.
I nearly avoided this film altogether. If it hadn’t been for a few choice reviews by people whose taste in films often align with my own, I wouldn’t have bothered.
I really wish I hadn’t bothered with this movie.
Not because it was particularly scary. Or even all that gruesome, though the height of the action (if you can call it that) did involve ‘degloving’ which I would urge you NOT to look up (especially if you’re of weak stomach or happen to be at work/on a public computer). For a movie also involving a scary ‘moonlight man’ who may or may not be real, and a feral dog that partially eats a corpse and attempts to eat the main character… This is not a scary movie.
No, I wish I had skipped this one because… and here is a somewhat unpopular opinion… Stephen King’s work is kind of overrated. Don’t get me wrong, I’m here for all of the hits: Shawshank, Carrie, The Green Mile, The IT mini-series. His celebrated works are so good that people are all-too-willing to overlook the giant floating turds on his resumé.
And if you’ve not seen the movie and you ignored the spoiler warning, here’s one last warning before I continue.
I realize that King wrote this in the early 90’s and that we’ve inched forward concerning women and their experiences (at least I’d like to believe that but given the recent news about executives in Hollywood, it feels stupid to say we’ve made any progress since the early 90’s). But hear me clearly when I say that I cannot handle one more story where a woman’s childhood trauma involving any form of sexual violence is brought to the surface and then easily and somewhat tidily dealt with in the span of 120 minutes… and now she’s free of her demons and everything is fine. I would love to live the rest of my life and not have a woman’s trauma end up a prop for larger themes.
It’s an obvious move to compare the character of Jessie to IT’s Bev, particularly the portrayal of her in the most recent IT movie, but there are plenty of articles out there that more eloquently explain how the final cut really missed the opportunity to keep Bev from damseling up. I will say that like Bev, the character of Jessie (played by Carla Gugino) and her trauma as a child, is merely a prop to drive home the larger themes of metaphorical shackles and abuse. And to me, and lots of other feminist killjoys out there (shout out to my fellow killjoys, love you), that makes for boring and lazy, and frankly insulting storytelling. And I’m not here for it.
Even setting all of that aside, this isn’t a great movie. It’s super clunky and fails to establish itself truly as a thriller; our dread as audience members is often interrupted by the chatty hallucinations Jessie experiences—Dead Gerald and the much more calm and level-headed version of herself. There were moments I found myself saying “WTF” out loud only to have that feeling squashed by the aforementioned interruptions; it didn’t feel like a diffusion of the tension so much as an attempt to interject some wit into an otherwise flat plot. It IS worth noting that Gugino’s attempts to turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse is nearly achieved with her performance. For someone who spends most of the movie shackled to the bed, she certainly does act her proverbial pants off up until the flat epilogue, which again, has more to do with what I suspect is bad directing and screenwriting rather than her actual choices as an actress. Even the whole sub-plot involving the ‘moonlight man’ which could’ve been the scariest aspect to this story just ends up clunky, mechanical-in-a-deus-ex-machina sort of way. And frankly, we deserve better as an audience and poor Carel Struycken deserved way better as an actor.
Final Verdict: Skip this one. There are plenty of better thrillers out there, even in the Netflix netherworld. If you’re willing to give Director Mike Flanagan a shot, check out ‘Hush’ which I would confidently argue is some of his better work.