Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game is exactly what horror/thrillers should aspire to be: devilishly well written, engagingly acted, crisply directed and scary enough to wake the dead. Presented on the Netflix platform with their trademark lack of marketing (they tend to hurl out content willy nilly, sans fanfare), it’s just shown up and is already one of the best horror films I’ve seen all year. Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood give encore performances and the best work of their careers as a couple who make their way to a cottage in the country, trying to spice up the ol’ marriage. When Brucie has a nice heart attack mid-foreplay (he popped a few of those magic blue pills), Carla is stuck handcuffed to the bed in the middle of nowhere, with no one for company except a mangy stray dog that begins to take chunks out of dead Bruce. So begins a fiercely internal, visceral psychological survival story, a brutal chamber piece that delves into her twisted childhood, troubled marriage and churns forth a tale to curl the pain on the cabin walls. There’s hallucinations, inner monologues, squirm-inducing gore, elliptical mind games and a pseudo-twist ending that had me shuddering into the couch. Gugino has never been more intense, believable or varied in her work, turning this character into something potent and tangible, bringing her past trauma and fight for survival to screaming life. Greenwood is smart, witty and so darkly funny it’s tough now to picture him as the stoic, emotionally shut off archetype he usually has embodied before this film. Additional work from ET’s now eerily grown up Henry Thomas and Twin Peak’s ginormous Carel Stryucken (terrifying here) adds class and distinction. The show belongs to Carla and Bruce, and what a show they put on, feasting on the rich, textured dialogue and playing sandbox in the story that uses depth, character and genuine menace to lasso us right in. In a year that’s seen at least one King novel unforgivably bastardized, and one other given the solid yet flawed and incomplete treatment, it’s reassuring to find one that comes up pretty much perfect in every way. Kudos to Netflix, the two leads and everyone else involved.
Everyone knows that high school teenagers are the most lawless, degenerate, ill adjusted scoundrels out there, but what to do about it? Radically unethical, mandatory brain modification of course, or at least that’s what mad scientist school principal Bruce Greenwood has in mind in Disturbing Behaviour, a Scream/Faculty esque 90’s shocker that didn’t get half the attention it deserved upon release. Shame because it’s a sleek, well oiled little horror outing. James Marsden and Katie Holmes are the new kids in town, siblings thrust into the savage Serengeti of high school and forced to jump through that fiery hoop of social interaction. Nick Stahl channels his inner awkwardness as the brooding outcast who befriends them, and the trio soon notice some weird activity from their peers. Behavioural patterns are erratic, robotic and vicious, their classmates seemingly not themselves anymore. A creepy local cop (always nice to see Steve Railsback) seems to know what’s up but eerily keeps it hush hush, and calmly maniacal Greenwood definitely has a few skeletons in a few closets. It’s up to them to figure out what’s going on, escape the cerebral rescanning net before they end up dead or worse. Assisting them is a scene stealing, nearly unrecognizable William Sadler as the school’s eccentric, hard-nosed janitor. Working from a script by word wizard Scott Rosenberg and beautifully spooky cinematography from John Bartley that captures the unsettling North Vancouver and Bowen Island coastlines, this flick has a lot going for it and should have gotten way more kudos.