MISERY (1990) 

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James Caan
Kathy Bates
Richard Farnsworth
Frances Sternhagen
Lauren Bacall
Graham Jarvis

Rob Reiner




Time: 107 mins.
Rating: R
Genre: Horror/Drama

Won Academy Award for Best Actress.

I'm not generally a big fan of Steven King's work. I think he has an amazing and prolific ability to tell a good story, but he doesn't write in a genre I typically enjoy reading. He novels don't usually translate well to the big screen because they are much scarier in your own imagination. The ones that do work best are his non-horror works like STAND BY ME, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and THE GREEN MILE. I guess those are easier for directors to understand and bring to the screen. That being said, of all his "horror" genre books, MISERY straddles the line between normalcy and the supernatural/evil that inhabits many of King's stories. MISERY is an intelligent, well-written, brilliantly acted piece that will stick with you for a very long time. It's scary because it could actually happen...and you hope it never does to you.

When the film begins, you think that Annie Wilkes is this plain, harmless middle-aged woman who just happened to save writer Paul Sheldon's life. She's a hero, having pulled him from his overturned car, rescuing him from certain death at the hands of the blizzard that made him crash. He's somewhat confused when he wakes up in a strange home, in great pain, but soon realizes that he's at the mercy of this woman. Initially grateful for everything she's done – she set both his legs which were broken in the accident, feeds and baths him – he begins to suspect that something is not quite right. She claims that she can't call anyone or go anywhere until the roads are cleared, but it soon becomes apparent that she's not being truthful. Annie is Paul's number one fan and she's not about to let him escape from her grasp. She's been waiting for him her whole life.

Paul pretends to go along with her delusion. Not that he has much of a choice. Even if he wasn't incapacitated by his legs, Annie keeps him under lock and key. Things between them stay on a fairly even keel until Paul's latest "Misery" novel gets released. Annie knows every book in the series by heart and has been dying for this new installment into the life of her favorite literary character. She is not at all pleased with Paul's treatment of her hero. In fact, she's so angry she forces him to make amends by immediately starting to write the next book in the series. He's not leaving until he brings Misery back to life. Writing the novel gives him something to do, as well as creates excuses to get Annie out of the house.

While she's gone, he escapes from his room and is not at all pleased with what he finds. Getting out of this situation alive is not going to be easy. Annie doesn't take to kindly to Paul's afternoon stroll and makes sure he'll never be able to do it again by hobbling him. He belongs with her and the sooner he accepts that fact the less pain he'll be forced to endure. Paul is in a race against time – will he be able to regain enough physical strength before Annie completely loses her grip on reality. It's a maddeningly tense affair as her dementia snowballs into thoughts of depression and suicide. The only thing keeping her from killing them both is her need to know what happens to Misery, to know that she will survive. Paul only cares if one person lives through this nightmare, and it's going to be him.

"I thought you were good Paul...but you're not good. You're just another lying ol' dirty birdy."

I have to say that I was even more amazed by Kathy Bates' performance the second time around. Nobody deserves an Oscar more. What an incredible challenge to capture and portray so many raw emotions and blend them into one personality so cleanly. When she finally gets her due, you're thrilled, but also a bit sad. Annie is obviously missing way more than one screw, but you still can't help thinking that she probably didn't get much of a fair shake in life. She's still one of the more frightening people ever put in a movie, but she's certainly not merely one-dimensional. Many factors helped create this monster and Bates shows us how simple a process the trip to insanity can be. James Caan gives an equally impressive performance, without which the film would have been horribly one-sided. Paul needed to have just as strong a personality otherwise you wouldn't root for him or believe it when he wins his freedom. It certainly can't have been easy acting from a bed.

MISERY is not your typical horror movie, but it's certainly one of the scariest films I've ever seen. Talk about your worst nightmare. Though it mainly takes place in one room, Reiner manages to keep it interesting and exciting. Of course, when you have a psychopath running around it's pretty hard to relax, no matter what your surroundings. If you're looking for a "fun", intelligent scare, MISERY is a must see. Bates will knock your socks off...and cause many a sleepless night. After watching this, you may be thankful for your quiet, unfamous existence.

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