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Late to the Party: MISERY (1990)

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Stephen King is one of my favorite authors. I write for a horror publication – is that so hard to believe? His movies seem to be hit or miss, and that’s not the man’s fault. It’s always interesting to see how one person’s story is seen through another’s retelling. I loved his novella, The Mist. The film adaption, though? Could not stand it. On the other hand, I thought that the film version of Stand By Me (which was based on another novella, titled The Body) was ten times more enjoyable.

Never reading King’s original book, however, I thought that Misery would be a fun experiment for me. In almost every occasion, I’ve experienced King’s stories through text first and moving picture later. I wondered how it would be to watch something of his first, and then read it.

Well, I haven’t gotten around to reading Misery yet, but I think that’s understandable given that I just finished the movie last night. So, I can’t speak on how it compares to the book, but maybe I don’t need to. Film and literature are two completely different animals, and I treat them as such. In any case, I enjoyed Misery very much.

The plot of the film is pretty damn straightforward. An author, Paul Sheldon (James Caan) gets in a car wreck during a snowstorm and is rescued by his “biggest fan,” Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates). She nurses him back to health, but there’s something a little off about her. In other words, she’s completely nuts. Wilkes forces Sheldon to write another sequel to his “Misery” novels when she reads the ending of the most recent one and decides that she doesn’t like it. The rest of the film follows an act of give and pull between the two as Sheldon attempts to survive Wilkes’ psychosis.

Caan and Bates both excel in their roles, and while at first I was expecting Bates to steal the show, I ended up completely enamored with James Caan’s portrayal of the writer. The man brings a lot of personality and humanity to the role; with Bates, well, she did the whole “crazy bitch” thing perfectly as well. I loved how obsessive and ridiculous the character was.

But besides the two of them, my favorite part of the film would probably be the scenery. The snow gave a very pleasing backdrop to a sadistic situation, which made Sheldon’s situation all the more sinister. Wilkes is a monster, through and through. The beauty of her character (and the horror, for that matter) is how deceptive her sinister-ness is (I don’t think that’s a word – just go with it). She doesn’t look like anyone overtly threatening, and she certainly doesn’t sound it. Wilkes is very much the definition of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

There were no big surprises for me to be found in Misery. If I could complain about one thing, it would be how straightforward the plot was. But then again, maybe that’s the beauty of the film. It’s such a simple premise. There could have realistically been one or two endings to the situation – Sheldon lives or Sheldon dies. While there was a degree of tension throughout, it never got to heart racing levels. Still, the strength of the characters in the film make for a highly enjoyable watch.

Misery is a horror film for those who don’t particularly enjoy horror films. It’s got great character acting and a steady, believable plot. The absence of anything too gory or violent besides one or two scenes will make it fine enough for anyone looking for a chill that won’t run unsettlingly deep.

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