- James Caan as Paul Sheldon
- Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes
- Richard Farnsworth as Buster
- Frances Sternhagen as Virginia
- Lauren Bacall as Marcia Sindell
A sterling and very unsettling adaptation of the Stephen King novel, Misery, as directed by the versatile Rob Reiner, gains great suspense and uneasiness from confident direction, a sinister score and an Oscar-winning performance from Kathy Bates.
Paul Sheldon is a successful author, most famous for his romance novels containing the character of Misery Chastain. Yet after writing so many books about the character, Paul has grown restless and wants to try other things in the more serious genres. He has just finished writing the manuscript for a new novel of a different vein while in the retreat of a Colorado lodge and plans to journey back to his New York home. As he drives though a fierce blizzard halts these plans and he crashes his car violently off the road knocking him unconscious. Trapped in his car as the blizzard rages on, Paul is rescued by Annie Wilkes, a former nurse who takes him to her house and tends to his injuries. When he wakes up, the seemingly friendly Annie makes him as comfortable as possible, while telling him that she is his number one fan. Annie is a homely and lonely woman who is slightly odd but spears to be relatively harmless in Paul’s eyes and he’s extremely grateful to her for saving his life. Annie promises that once the phone lines are back up,and working and the road is safe, she’ll take him to a hospital. Yet things turn very creepy very fast once Annie reads Paul’s latest Misery novel and finds out her favourite character has been killed off. Flying off the handle she shows her true frightening colours. She then reveals that she never called the hospital, so no one knows where Paul is and many presume him to be dead. Still bedridden and now completely terrified, he is for forced to comply with her demands of writing a new novel bringing the character of Misery back to life. Frightened for his life, he begins writing, all the while planning some form of escape from the disturbed Annie, who never wants to let Paul go and is so intensely obsessed by him and his work, that she will resort to the most brutal tactics to make sure he completes the novel she is forcing him to write. Meanwhile, the local Sherrif Buster, an old, seasoned pro begins searching for the missing Paul, convinced that he isn’t dead as everyone else seems to believe. Before, writing was just a way of making a living for Paul, but now in the desperate situation of prisoner under the obsessed and deranged eye of Annie, he is writing to save his very life.
The ever versatile Rob Reiner shoes flair for the psychological thriller genre buy focusing on events with the confined setting of Annie’s house, that becomes claustrophobic once her mania comes out. Reiner taps into the fear of entrapment and fanatical devotion that both palpably leap from the screen and increase the terror. Tension and chills are provided through zooming close-ups, particularly of a fearful Paul and a crazed Annie. These are used most effectively in the iconic scene of Annie hobbling Paul after finding out he has tried to escape, just thinking about that scene gives me chills. Just as entertaining as watching the terrified Paul attempting to escape is the battle of wills between him and Annie. He tries to reason with her, but is ultimately forced to give in to her demands for fear of his life. Annie basically becomes the role of a disapproving and demanding(plus very menacing) editor of Paul’s work, adding to a gleefully dark undercurrent of Misery. There are some impressive jolts of black humour and irony thrown into the mix that give Misery yet more of a twisted scope to work within and coil around with mounting intensity. While the film is filled with shots of snowy hills and landscapes almost from the off, the suspense-building score from Marc Shaiman lets the audience now that we are not in for a cosy ride with strings and brass mixing to chilling effect as Paul becomes at the mercy of the unhinged and devoted Annie.
James Caan, who from the roles I’ve seen him in often plays the hell raiser of the menacing type, flips it here successfully portraying the imprisoned Paul. He convincingly conveys the feelings of entrapment and terror that soon arise when Annie’s niceness vanishes. The main draw of the film is the super impressive and award-winning performance from Kathy Bates as the psychopathic Annie Wilkes. Essaying the mood swings of the character, from calm and homely nurse to enraged torturer who will stop at nothing to keep Paul with her, Bates registers on every level so well it is frightening to behold. There is simply no other actress who could have played the part of Annie with the creepy intensity of Kathy Bates and the Oscar she won for the role was well-merited indeed. Richard Farnsworth breathes intelligence and humour into the part of the searching sheriff who won’t give up and his performance is complimented by that of Frances Sternhagen as his sarcastic but helpful wife. Lauren Bacall appears in a small but memorable role as the concerned publisher of Paul’s work.
A chilling psychological thriller of shocks and squirms, Misery will have you most uncomfortable by the end due to the creepy factor that is built throughout it and the excellent work of the cast, in particular an unforgettable Kathy Bates as the devoted but extremely dangerous number one fan.