Misery ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2 Review by Andrea Carnevali
After a famous author is rescued from a car crash by a fan of his novels, he comes to realize that the care he is receiving is only the beginning of a nightmare of captivity and abuse. You can watch rent or buy Misery on most streaming platforms.
The recent sad departure of movie icon James Caan seems the perfect excuse to revisit this film which I had not seen in at least two decades.
Since its release in 1990 and over the years a lot has been said about Kathy Bates’s outstanding, Oscar winning and truly terrifying performance as Annie Wilkes in the film, but Caan’s reactions to her madness and the depiction of utter fear, anger and gratitude on his face have a lot to do with how effective the film was (and still is).
His finely controlled performance perfectly balances Bates’ extravagance.
Adapted from Stephen King’s 1987’s novel of the same name, this is not just an incredibly suspenseful little horror, but also an allegory for the relations between artists and stars and their fans, clearly spawned from the Kings’ own personal demons and nightmares.
The story follows author Paul Sheldon (Caan), who after a car crash is rescued by a fan, Annie Wilkes (Bates) and taken under her care while a severe snowstorm makes it impossible to go the hospital. Soon writer realises that his number one fan may not be completely sane…
Back in the 80s and 90s I used to be an avid reader of all Stephen King’s books, novels and short stories and I still vividly remember being slightly disappointed by the adaptation of this particular story.
Annie Wilks in the book is a towering figure and somehow I couldn’t quite get beyond Bates’s tiny stature, nor some of the several cuts they had to make to the story to keep the film down to a manageable length. But then again, I was a silly teenager, who didn’t know anything. How wrong I was!
Watching it again today, it’s impossible not to get swept away by impeccable craft of this film.
Of course, Bates’ unpredictable behaviour is what keeps us glued to the chair: one moment she’s dancing, cheering and fantasising about Liberace, a moment later she coldly amputating her victims’ legs in one of the most shocking scenes in film history.
King’s novel is superbly adapted by screenwriter William Goldman, a true God in Hollywood (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men, Marathon Man, just to mention a few). He understands that King’s strengths in storytelling go beyond whatever horrific tale of madness. It’s the human elements which keep us hooked.
The director behind the scenes, Rob Reiner, is obviously an absolute pro: his eclectic filmography stands as testament of his golden touch to any genre he approached: mokumentary This is Spinal Tap, rite of passage Stand by Me (my ultimate favourite movie!), Adventure/Fantasy/comedy The Princess Bride, romantic-comedy When Harry Met Sally, courtroom drama A few Good Men.. and now this thriller/psychological horror which aims to recreate that unbearable tension that made some of those films by Alfred Hitchcock, confined all in one room, so perfect. And he succeeds without a shadow of a doubt.
Aided by cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld, who had shot all of the Coen brothers` films before this and then went on to become a successful director (with films like Men in Black and Get Shorty), Rainer makes the most of the one location, playing with light, shadows, weather and seasons.
We become accustomed to the geography of the place so well that that after a while we begin to feel we are stuck in there too.
And let’s not forget the local sheriff and his wisecracking wife, mostly used for comic relief to give us a little bit of breathing space from the tension.
Reiner is a master of manipulation and beautifully orchestrates twists and turns, shocks and thrills throughout the film keeping us the audiences on the edge of our seats until he decides he wants to make us jump off … and so we do. What fun!
Why can’t they make them like this any more?
Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick
Misery is available to rent or buy from most streaming platforms.
See all Andrea’s film reviews here: Film reviews by Andrea Carnevali
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