Review: Misery (1990)

By Sean Gardner

Misery is directed by Rob Reiner and stars Kathy Bates and James Caan. It is based on a Stephen King novel of the same name. Caan plays famous fictional writer Paul Sheldon, who goes up to a cabin in the woods every time he writes a new book about his most famous character, Misery. Paul is ready to move on with his life and write a different character. So at the end of the book he kills off Misery. But on his way back home from his cabin the snow gets too thick and he crashes and almost dies, but was pulled out by Annie Wilkes (Bates) who just happens to be Paul’s biggest fan. She vows to nurse him back to health.

The fact that he just happens to get picked up by someone who just happens to be a super fan of his work after he just happens to crash close to her house was a little too convenient to be believable at first, but after you realize that she’s cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, it makes sense. She probably knew that he came up to that part of the country to write, and she might have moved there to be closer to her favorite writer. She might have even followed him a few times before without him noticing. I would certainly not put it past her to do something like that.

After you get past the fact that the set up is a little too convenient, it is a terrifying film. It is a believable and realistic story, and that makes it all the more unsettling. Bates as the crazed nurse is the best part.  She creates a character that is so calm and kind and caring that it makes her more scary than if she was just crazy. Bates reminds me (ironically) of Norman Bates from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. She keeps her insanity hidden just beyond detection, but sometimes she can’t hold it in anymore.

There is a scene where Paul and Annie are discussing Paul’s latest book.  Annie mildly criticizes that there is too much swearing in the book. Paul explains that it is appropriate to the nature of the characters for them to swear that much. Annie is distraught and will not take this for an acceptable answer. She let’s her crazy out a little too much. The way Caan plays Paul’s reaction lets the audience know, without words, that he does not want to be there anymore.

The most terrifying thing about this movie is that we know Paul is in trouble, and we know that there is nothing that can be done to save him.  He must play along with Annie’s game.  We are rooting for him even though we know his chances are slim. We agonize with him as we watch some of his attempts to escape fail.  The famous “hobbling” scene is made more terrifying and painful by how calm and collected both Caan and Bates play it. Paul is begging for mercy while Annie tortures him mercilessly, neither one ever raising their voices.

This film works in thrilling ways and belongs in the conversation as one of the best Stephen King adaptations of all time.

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