The Classics of Horror #16 – Misery (1990)

Legend says that Stephen King, dissatisfied by his latest adaptations, asked Rob Reiner to work on the transposition of his novel Misery (1987) to film.

The director behind the awesome Stand by me (1986) agreed to work on a King’s source material once again. As a result, Misery (the movie) came out in 1990, starring Kathy Bates and James Caan.

Winning an award to Bates for best actress in a leading role, Misery probably deserved even more. I’m so in love with this movie!

Partly, it’s because the type of movies revolving around a few characters locked up somewhere (à la 12 Angry Men, 1957) have always had a special place in my heart. With very little to work with, this formula exploits its potential as a character study, which is something I always found mesmerising, as a cinephile.

What kind of ‘secluded’ situation are we dealing with in Misery, then? Basically, famous writer Paul Sheldon (James Caan) has just finished its latest novel about (you guessed it) Misery. She’s a character he built his career around but decided to kill off to move on as a writer. Driving back home after finishing said book, Paul ends up having a car accident due to a snowstorm.

Paul and his only copy of the manuscript get saved by a nurse, Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates). Good for him. Or maybe not?

In fact, quite soon after Paul is taken to Annie’s isolated house, he notices something is off with the nurse, who claims to be “her biggest fan” and, perhaps, is a bit overly obsessed with him and the character of Misery.

From now on, the audience is gripped to a story which sees an immobilised Paul (with his legs broken and in rather bad conditions) trying to escape his host, while Annie pushes him to rewrite his latest novel and make it more ‘Misery friendly’.

Misery is, clearly, a character driven horror/drama/thriller, I’d say. Good for us, the performances by the two leads are great.

Misery 1Kathy Bates, in the role that made her famous, is just fantastic: she ranges from being creepily sweet and caring to going bad shit insane and violent. For instance, when Caan realises her madness for the first time, the sequence is handled so well by Bates’ performance. The way she gestures and speaks, coming up with the most ridiculous ways to cover her swearing, is just terrific. Impressively enough, from that first insanity moment on her acting improves and every time I watch this movie, I don’t see Kathy Bates on screen: I see freaking Annie Wilkes.

Not to be overlooked though, is James Caan’s performance. To begin with, he mostly only had his facial expressions to rely on and still manages to be extremely believable and compelling. Also, at certain points in the film, his character needs to pretend to have different feelings: do you have any idea how hard it is to be a character within a character? Yes, Bates steals the show, but Caan at his best was also a delight to look at.

Misery 2.pngYet, there is a subplot involving two other characters (a sheriff and his wife) that both links the story together and introduces us these amazing people, a likable and funny old couple. I love the sheriff, he’s so genuine and quotable: “Virginia, when we are in the car you’re not my wife; you’re my deputy!”. Great stuff!

Again, the direction of Rob Reiner is spotless: the whole movie has an incredible, somewhat nostalgic vibe that makes everything so intriguing, even the scenes that could have become dull. The set design is, also, amazing: everything looks lived-in and realistic. The camera-work even manages to create some great sequences and peeps to the action from uneven angles.

Misery 3Besides the infamous ‘hammer scene’ which Misery is famous for even among those who haven’t seen it, this film delivers some intense psychological torture. For a passionate writer having to burn or rewrite their book must be very hard to take. I mean, even I get mad when I forget to save a post and I have to write it again from the beginning!

In all honestly, I don’t think there is any flaw in this movie. Well, other than a tiny editing mistake that you’d notice only if you’re as obsessed as I am with the technical aspects of a movie. Also, I didn’t love the score, because sometimes highlights too much the most intense scenes.

Anyway, Misery is simply a masterpiece. I probably consider it one of my all-time favourite movies, one that also happens to feature an awesome, fulfilling and climactic ending. Must watch!

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