Misery

James Caan as crippled writer Paul Sheldon

The Stephen King novel Misery was adapted for film in 1990 and remains one of the few King tomes to make the transition well. The story of a writer who has a car crash and is taken in and cared for by his number one fan, builds into a tense and horrifying tale which works well as a movie. Terrific acting performances help to elevate this into a truly memorable, if slightly gruelling experience.

Paul Sheldon is the mega-successful writer responsible for the Misery series of books, however he is sick of peddling the same romantic drivel and so he kills the main character off. Free from the shackles of Misery he retires into the mountains to write his new masterpiece. Upon completion he drives back towards the city but crashes along the way and plunges down into a snow covered valley. His battered body is dragged from the car and he awakes to find himself in the house of Annie Wilkes.

As luck would have it Annie is an ex-nurse and she tends to his wounds, she also happens to be his "number one fan" a fact she never tires of pointing out in her chirpy inane way. However Annie has a temper on her and can snap at the slightest thing. Paul soon realises that Annie has no intention of letting him go and he has no choice in his weakened state but to play along until a chance for escape presents itself.

The original book is also great and little has been altered for the film. King is good at creating believable characters and the tension is gradually built up until it becomes unbearable. The situation is truly horrible but this film is more psychological than blood drenched, clever use of a couple of brief bursts of violence heightens the impact they have on the viewer and the lack of supernatural twists makes this a frighteningly realistic tale.

A Misery poster featuring Kathy Bates as psychotic Annie Wilkes

The direction in the film is competent without really being worthy of note. The fat jowled Rob Reiner is the man responsible and I think this is easily his best work. The setting is perfect, snow covered mountains and isolated wooden houses set amongst tall fir trees. The soundtrack works well helping the pace and tension along a bit.

The real kicker that makes this a great movie is the acting performances. James Caan plays the bed ridden, hapless Paul Sheldon and he does it very nicely. Sheldon is a good victim because he isn´t an idiot, he plays along, he doesn´t spit in the baddies face giving them no option but to kill him, instead he bides his time and formulates plans. Annie Wilkes played by a superb Kathy Bates is the star of the show. She really brings the character to life and makes her seem like a very real person with an extremely scary side. The bulk of the movie is these two and they really act their parts well making it very enjoyable viewing. The supporting cast is also decent; I especially liked Richard Farnsworth as Sheriff John T. "Buster" McCain, a cynical old guy with a dry sense of humour.

The film builds to an explosive action packed ending unleashing all the tension in a wave of violence. The pace of the film works very well as the gentle start gradually begins to slide gathering speed as we realise with horror how far Annie will go to get her own way before it explodes in a fiery heap. The hobbling scene is probably the most horrific moment of the film, though less so than the book, and the grinning maniacal face of Annie is rather hard to forget. This is a good story well-acted and should appeal to anyone who likes a bit of darkness in their movies.


Reviewed by Simon Hill

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