Originally posted here in March 2015 on MovieRob, as part of Rob’s Meathead March blogathon.
As soon as Rob mentioned the idea of Meathead March, I knew which Rob Reiner movie I’d most like to write about. Heck, even Rob himself guessed! (MovieRob I mean….not Rob Reiner)
Anyway, of course I’m talking about Misery. A psychological thriller starring James Caan and Kathy Bates, based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King.
As this is a Stephen King story we can safely (and correctly) assume that the main character is going to be a writer. Caan plays Paul Sheldon, a reasonably famous author most renowned for his collection of romance novels, all starring the same protagonist Misery Chastain.
We see him at the start of the film having a car accident in the middle of nowhere and it is only by chance that he is rescued by retired nurse Annie Wilkes (Bates). She gets the unconscious Paul back to her modest home – instead of the obvious choice of a hospital – alarm bells – and sets him up in her spare room.
Though there is something undeniably creepy about Annie right from the start – she claims immediately to be Paul’s “Number 1 Fan” – things don’t begin too badly. Though Paul suspects she has mental health issues (oh if only you knew dirty birdy!!) it is only after she reads his newly published Misery Chastain novel and finds out he has killed her favourite character that she begins to show just how damn crazy and violent she can be. And with Paul confined to his bed and unable to walk or communicate with anyone except Annie he has no choice but to give into her demands of writing a new book.
What could possibly go wrong?
Misery is without doubt one of the finest Stephen King adaptations ever made. To be fair I’ve never read the book, but everyone loves it (even Mr King himself). It’s always had great reviews and critical acclaim. In fact it’s pretty hard to find anything wrong with it at all. I have heard of a few things that were left out of the book and some scenes that were slightly different, but that’s to be expected and Misery is still a sterling thriller from a great director, scriptwriter (William Goldman) and novelist.
It’s an interesting concept and one that plays on fears we all surely have. The idea of being trapped, confined by someone scary and unable to escape. Whilst kidnap/hostage movies have been done many times over, what gives Misery more of a unique twist is the circumstances and characters that the plot revolves around. This isn’t some nutcase (okay she IS a nutcase, but wait and see where I’m going with this) who wants to torture someone for fun or a psychopath who kidnaps soft young women ‘a la Silence of the Lambs’ style.
The performances from both Caan and Bates are outstanding. There aren’t a heap of other characters who keep popping up of course – save the sweet old sheriff, you’ll love him just like I did – but both the main actor and actress are enough to carry the whole shebang. Kathy Bates in particular gives the performance of her life. Who can think of the film Misery without straight away thinking of Kathy Bates? She manages to turn a middle aged, dumpy woman into one of the most frightening and tense character creations seen on screen during the 1990s (and there were a lot of good thrillers in the 90s).
Most of us have seen Misery but if you haven’t then I implore you to do so! It’s not a particularly dated movie, despite being made 25 years ago (god I feel old) and of course the premise and idea behind it stands the test of time anyway. It’s a classic story – tense and frightening. A film that builds up to very frightening and uneasy scenes and has a brilliant, climatic finale.
You might find you wince a bit too.