Believing that the works of Stephen King are exactly what they appear to be is to fall into one of the biggest misconceptions of all time. Since his debut as a novelist, his aptitude for the horror and suspense genre marked a break with the clichés of this literary circle and presented more intimate and harrowing perspectives – with the greatest examples of this being the supernatural thriller. ‘The illuminated’ and teenage terror ‘Carrie’. Of course, time and time again, re-readings of his pantheon fail to capture the essence of what he wrote, such as the colossal failure of ‘To Black Tower’but some titles surprise us with the viscerality with which they were created.
One of them is ‘Dangerous game’which arrived five years ago in the catalog of Netflix. Once characterized as King’s “unfilmable book”, it was almost automatic to be on the back foot to check out this addition that came without much fuss to the giant of streaming. After all, after the gigantic slip with ‘The Mist’ (freely based on ‘The fog’), we could not help but doubt the quality of yet another foray into this sensory and narrative pantheon.
The premise may seem a bit silly: a couple, formed by Jessie (Carla Gugino) e Gerald Burlingame (Bruce Greenwood), decides to take a break from busy lives to rescue the spark in his marriage. To do so, they travel to Jessie’s childhood lake house as a way to spice up their relationship a little more with a game of domination proposed by her husband – which involves handcuffs and lingerie. But no one – I repeat, nobody – could have predicted that things would take a terrifying turn after Gerald had a massive heart attack shortly after he had chained his wife to the back of his bed. And that’s exactly where the story really begins.
Jessie is a woman who, as we discover throughout the narrative, externalizes her traumas in well-known figures and is constantly haunted by a troubled past and the loss of a childhood that, for lack of any other characterization, never existed. In a clear impotence situation, she can do nothing but wait for a miracle to allow her to leave her room – but the weekend at the house was planned so that no one, not even gardeners, servants or family members, would interfere with the moment. intimate of the couple. The construction of all the elements is essential to show all the feelings of loss and ruin – after all, visually, the protagonist is in a dead end, with no possibility of reaching her cell phone, keys or even something to let go of.
This wouldn’t be King without the supernatural touch – but the often intangible conception of what we can’t explain is actually a psychosomatic extension of the fear and tension that grips Jessie as the hours pass. She begins to see apparitions of herself, unleashed, and her late husband, fighting verbosely not just about what will happen to her, but how all her desire to fulfill the wishes of others has turned her into a puppet. The “Other Jessie”, emerging within an outrageous and far more balanced personality than her imprisoned version, talks about the flaws in her marriage while unearthing events from a remote past that have been hidden for too long. Meanwhile, the “Other Gerald”, in existential and unbearably calm soliloquies, tries to steer the protagonist towards her undoing, coercing her to accept her fate.
Gugino is, without a doubt, the key element of the entire film. His incredible double acting moves away from genre clichés and rescues equally harrowing sequences from similar films – such as the climax of ‘Good night mom’ (2015). And, despite the unconventional situation, we managed to see ourselves represented, albeit indirectly, at several points – including the moments when your impotence speaks louder and all the frustration for not knowing what to do shows up physically, as the brands in your wrists, dehydration in your skin and mental fatigue.
However, this would not have been possible without the Mike Flanagan. Known for his essential intelligence for thriller and horror films, the filmmaker rescues his experiences with his highly successful works, such as ‘The mirror’ (2013) and especially ‘Hush: Death Hears’ (2016). The atmospheric construction is scrutinized by psychological nuances that lead us to dive into the madness-sanity contradiction of the protagonist. And, once again, greater forces prevent the human desire for survival from speaking louder, creating openings for the inherent fragility of our limits to cry out for freedom from pain: the deathwhich in this case is embodied by the frightening presence of the Man in the Moon (Carel Struycken), materialization of Jessie’s traumas.
In addition to the incredible chemistry between Gugino and Greenwood, the narrative also introduces us to other equally complex characters that deepen our empathic relationships with the main character. Jessie, as a child, traveled to the same lake house with her family, and during the occurrence of a total eclipse, she was abused by Tom (Henry Thomas), your father. And after being induced not to talk about it with anyone, including her mother, she felt obliged to protect her siblings, even though she never felt part of that family set again. Such a revelation is interesting because it shows that, if she hadn’t given in to her husband’s emotional blackmail and imposed on her preferences, she wouldn’t have been in that completely unfavorable and dangerous position.
The film perhaps loses some of its luster in the final moments, during which the loose ends are finally closed and the aftermath of the torturous experience lived by the main character. After learning the Moon Man’s true identity and drawing a parallel with the “monsters” that haunted her throughout her life, Jessie, in a voz over that was not essentially necessary for the understanding of the plot, gives its own perspective on what happened in a self-dialogue with his inner child who was forced to mature, losing innocence and dragging the sequels into his adult life. Everything is predictable and follows the pattern of arcs of redemption and for this reason it doesn’t speak in the same tone as the rest of the work.
‘Dangerous game’ is a visceral and intimate thriller that explores the weaknesses of human beings in the most chaotic situations possible. Through an excellent film direction, Flanagan lives up to one of the best works signed by Stephen King by transposing everything necessary for an addictive narrative of overcoming and horror.