The worst facet of any artist, is their fans. I don’t know who said it originally but I can say, tongue fully removed from cheek that I believe that statement to be true. Maybe more now than I ever thought possible.
Misery is one of many Stephen King novels to be turned into films, Made in the 1990 (although written in ’87), the novel was written at the height of King’s party hard phase. While I have not read the book, I firmly believe that the film imparts some of the source material’s author’s wild side with it. Paul Sheldon (James Caan) is a prolific author, much like Stephen King himself. However, unlike King he’s painted himself into a corner writing sappy historical romance novels for longer than he cares to admit. The novels focus around a woman named Misery and follow her trials and tribulations, and have garnered him great success and wealth. Sheldon is tired of Misery, though. He yearns for something new, something that will solidify him as a serious tour de force in the world of fiction literature. When he finally finishes his first draft of the final novel in the Misery series, he gets into a terrible car accident on his way to his editor. Rescued and being cared for by his self-proclaimed number one fan, Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), Paul Sheldon finds himself learning that fandom is a deep, deep rabbit hole and those who live in its furthest depths can be warped and perverted by it’s pressures.
Misery is an uncomfortable experience, front to back. I mean it in the best way possible, but it truly is unsettling. Obviously, Kathy Bates steals the show as the deranged Annie Wilkes (she did after all win an Oscar for her rollercoaster of a performance here), but the rest of the film is pretty on point to help support her. With an uninspired director or an actor less capable than Caan, Kathy Bates’ performance would have seemed overblown and hokey, but her borderline overacting and ability to turn on a dime from one complex emotion to another are complimented by subtle camera work and Caan’s restrained foil to her. When Annie brings down the hammer (heh), the lighting in the shots will change slightly, accenting her bulging eyes or the spittle ejecting from her lips. Her boots clatter against hard wood and crunch deafeningly in the snow. Bates commands the screen whenever she’s in frame, whether she’s screaming and scolding or excitedly introducing her pet pig (named after Misery, of course). Even when she shows a complete lack of emotion, which only happens a handful of times throughout Misery’s 107 minute run time, she’s terrifying. She might be completely off her rocker, but she’s intelligent and calculating through and through.
Again, I haven’t read the novel so I cannot say which scenes have been omitted from the source and which have been added in to the film, but the pacing in Misery is near perfect. For being a film whose plot revolves around two people in a house (usually in only one room), the subplot about the small town Sheriff who takes an interest in trying to find Paul breaks up the constant bleak hopelessness that is prevalent across the whole film. I don’t usually get into movies so much that I vocally react to the events on screen, but every time Paul Sheldon is foiled in his attempt at freedom (whether by his own hand, Annie’s, or by unfavorable fate), I got a visceral reaction out of it. Not to mention, every thing little or large that Annie does to her captive just feels deplorable. From setting him up with a writing station to churn out a novel retconning the manuscript that killed Misery all the way to the infamous sledgehammer scene, whenever Paul has any victory or setback, you can’t help but cheer or cringe for him.
While I seem to be waxing poetic about how amazing Misery was, I can’t help but feel it’s only a small cut above average. It could be that it feels a little dated with the way it looks, but I feel like it mostly falls on the nature of the story. The events in Misery flow incredibly smoothly and because of that, I feel like there are less twists and turns throughout. There are a couple of really big OH FUCK moments, but mostly, you can figure out how every element introduced will affect and work out as the plot trods onwards. The thing that makes me hesitant to call this a major flaw of the film is that it still works, even though you can call what’s going to happen in the next 15 minutes while you’re watching it. It’s a natural enough progression that you’re never taken out of it, and your suspension of disbelief is never challenged or made to work overtime. There are no contrivances or glaring plot holes, however I can totally see how someone might find Misery a little predictable.
Overall, Misery is a great way to spend a night. You’ve got a fine, respectable movie made from one of fiction’s greatest author’s works helmed by a competent director and powered by Kathy Bates’ unhinged performance. It’s got some scenes that’ll make most people squirm, but I think Misery makes for a phenomenal entry into the horror genre for anyone who was hesitant about it.
Movie Pairing: Haute Tension. Both are gruesome horror flicks that tackle opposite ends of obsession, from different countries and different eras. It would make a pretty great conversation afterwards to compare and contrast.
Drink Pairing: A dozen codeine pills mixed in with 12oz of red wine.