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By Vernor Rodgers
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Just in time for Halloween is the psychological thriller "Gerald's Game," now available in Netflix. Based upon the Stephen King novel, it has been adapted by writer-director Mike Flanagan and co-writer Jeff Howard and directed by Flanagan. This means it was in good hands. Flanagan and Howard collaborated on "Oculus" and "Ouija: Origin of Evil," both well-received films among horror aficionados. Flanagan's brilliant horror thriller "Hush," about a deaf-mute writer, played by his wife Kate Siegel, who lives in a fairly remote home, and is stalked by a masked man who toys with her, saying that eventually he will kill her, also is available on Netflix and worth a look.

"Gerald's Game" is psychological horror at its best, zeroing in on two people, then just one in a dire struggle to survive.

Jessie and Gerald Burlingame (Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood) are a couple who go to a remote home retreat in an effort to add some pizzazz to their near-dormant sex life. Astoundingly, Gerald needs Viagra to get worked up enough to make love to Jessie. Before they get settled in, Jessie befriends a stray dog outside who later will be a source of terror. Once they get down to business, Jessie learns that Gerald, in addition to chemical assistance, needs bandage fantasies to become sexually functional. It gets rough and Jessie calls a halt to the proceedings. As they try to talk a compromise, something goes terribly wrong, and Jessie is shackled to a bed with little hope of escape or rescue. Meanwhile, the dog, once a sympathetic creature, becomes part of the living nightmare for Jessie.

Although Greenwood provides adequate support in this jittery scenario, this is Gugino's showcase as she essentially assumes two roles -- the helpless Jessie and the even-keeled Jessie whose psychologically probing nature and common sense are the keys to the woman's survival. So "Gerald's Game" becomes a guessing game as to what is real and what is being summoned by a mind wracked by terror. Not only must Jessie summon the strength to do what is necessary to save herself, she must confront dark episodes in her life.

Henry Thomas, old Elliot himself from "E.T.", does a chilling turn as Jessie's dad, in flashbacks, who has a creepy attraction to his daughter. Flanagan's wife Siegel plays Jessie's mom in the flashbacks, depicting a mother who offers anything but comfort to her daughter.

This is a triumph for Gugino, whose Jessie must evolve from a person whose life was marked with an unwillingness to confront those unpleasant times to become a woman able to stand on her own emotionally. Flanagan's direction is impeccable, flowing smoothly from horror to reflection to painful resolution.

"Gerald's Game" Official Trailer:  https://youtu.be/twbGU2CqqQU



"FLATLINERS"

The burden of doing a remake in the movie business is that the updated version  better bring something new and bold to the story, or why bother. In taking another stab at the 1990 sci-fi thriller “Flatliners.” writers Peter Filardi and Ben Ripley, along with director Niels Arden Oplev, had an opportunity to overcome the flaws of the original movie, which got a mixed reception – it has a 6.6 rating on IMDB. Unfortunately they fall short.The only advantage the 2017 version of “Flatliners” had is that there are people  out there not aware there was an original made 27 years earlier. So this version will seem like something new.

Certainly the premise is intriguing. Five first- and second-year medical students decide to explore the mysteries of what happens after death.  Trained in resuscitation skills, these young people can control the experiment: stop the heart but then get it going again before any damaging effects set in.

Courtney (Ellen Page) is the force behind the experiments. Labeling it an “extra  credit” project, she drafts assistance from four other students – Jamie (James Norton), Marlo (Nina Dobrev), Sophia (Kiersey Clemons) and Ray (Diego Luna), the  latter who is the most reluctant to participate. In fact, Ray is drawn in by  being summoned when the initial experiment almost goes tragically wrong.

Courtney’s true motivation for these risky undertakings is an irrational desire to bring closure to a horrible accident she endured nine years earlier. So naturally she is the one set to “die” first. 

Although the initial experiment almost ends in disaster, Courtney is revived.  Soon her colleagues notice that she has become even more sharp mentally, and  they all, except Ray, want to go through the near-death experience, hopefully emerging with increased mental capacity like Courtney.


 This of course turns into a cautionary tale of how far science be allowed to go  to unlock mysteries that probably should not be tapped into. Ultimately the message here is one tied into what has been documented in real  near-death experiences where those who came back from being dead report that  the so-called final judgment of one’s life is not made by a supreme being but by the dead person, who, now elevated to a new level of consciousness, must assess his or her life and try to reconcile those darker times in life.Thus, each student soon is haunted by some incident in the past that was not resolved honorably or was the result of bad judgment, neglect or just plain screwing up.

The stakes are raised when the ensuing “side-effects” of the experiment turns  fatal, pressing the others into a dire challenge to counteract these problems before the all die.

Yes, there is some suspense here, but all of the characters are pretty bland.  Ray is the most interesting of the students, but since he refused to “die,” he is not threatened by these dangers. The problem is, the one who dies not only leaves a void in the lives of the others, but in the movie as well. So, nice try, but nope.

"FLATLINERS" Official Trailer:  https://youtu.be/gUDV0CUzG0k



"DWELLING"

In the realm of hauntings, mirrors are bad news — and it’s especially daunting if a mirror that has been left behind in a haunted house has been painted over in black, as if to impede whatever uses it as a portal.

Such a mirror might provoke major anxiety and eventual fleeing of the house, but for Ellie in “Dwelling” — now available on DVD — this is something to confront and investigate. Ellie (Erin Marie Hogan, “House of Manson”) is a young woman determined to find out what transpired on a tragic night 17 years earlier in which her mother died. Having dealt with the horrifying and puzzling memories of that night nearly two decades earlier that not only claimed the life of her mother but also led her younger sister, River (Devanny Pinn, “House of Manson,” “Casey Anthony: An American Murder Mystery”), to become institutionalized, Ellie is ready to do what it takes to find a way to communicate with her mother and learn the truth about that tragic night.

Having assumed the custody of River’s adolescent daughter Izzy (Abigail Mary), Ellie, along with her supportive fiance, Gavin (Mu-Shaka Benson), decides to go right into the teeth of the storm, buying a haunted house called Amara and moving in there with Gavin and Izzy. Izzy herself seems to have inherited her mother’s “gift” of hearing voices and communicating with the beyond, thus is a vital tool in Ellie’s quest. It’s inside the house they discover the painted-over mirror, and before long Ellie is peeling away the paint, not sure what will happen but suspecting this mirror might be a key in breaking through to the other side.

Written and directed by Kyle Mecca, “Dwelling” is not a jump-scares paranormal movie. Instead, it is a foreboding mystery that requires the utmost attention of the viewer. Indeed, those watching “Dwelling” may need to see it a second or third time to catch all the hints. Mecca’s script is meticulous in presenting the various clues as to what is going on.

Hogan wonderfully conveys Ellie as a woman who will not be denied in her effort to learn what triggered a horrible night that had such a devastating impact on her and River. At times her obstinacy seems foolhardy, especially when she appears willing to put Izzy and Gavin at risk. But at the core of her determination is the drive to find closure and a way to liberate River from the inner demons that keep her locked away instead of being a mother to Izzy.

Benson is superb as Gavin, a man who adores Ellie and is a terrific and patient uncle to Izzy, but whose resolve to remain supportive of Ellie dissolves amid his own research that uncovers the possibility of something horribly sinister lurking in the house, in addition to his own nerve-wracking experiences as the unseen forces start to take hold.

Mary exudes a child’s innocence that is an effective shield in helping her maintain composure. Yes, the new doll she gets for her birthday and ominously names Amara communicates with her and seems to have control over what Izzy can and cannot say about what’s going on, but to the girl, that just part of having friends, even if they are not living things.

Pinn does not have much screen time, but makes an impact is the tragically cursed River, stalked by voices while she sketches creepy drawings from visions in her head. Her desperation to be free of all this leads to a shocking act.

“Dwelling” is not a movie for those who seek the thrills and chills and shrieks of a roller-coaster scary movie. It is instead a quiet and challenging experience, peeling away the layers as we stand side by side with Ellie, who despite some of the daunting occurrences she encounters, manages to contain any panic and analyze the situations in a rational manner. Yes, she is stubborn, but her resolve to find a path to a better life for her, Gavin, Izzy and River is an attribute worth admiring.

"DWELLING" Official Trailer:  https://youtu.be/IDXwjQ-fHgU

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