Misery (1990)

As a writer, this might be the scariest movie I’ve ever seen. Screw The Exorcist.

Misery is about fictional author Paul Sheldon (James Caan, The Godfather). He’s just had his latest book published—which kills off his most famous character, Misery Chastain—and he has been writing his first non-serialized novel. When he leaves the lodge, his car careens off the icy road, and a good samaritan saves him from the cold.

Fortunately for him, that samaritan is a nurse, Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates, Titanic). She’s also his number one fan, and she wants to take good care of him. Unfortunately, when she discovers he killed off Misery, Annie’s darker side becomes apparent. She traps him in her house, forcing him to resurrect the famous character. You may know the famous scene from this film, where Kathy Bates uses a mallet to break James Caan’s feet, and that’s really the perfect illustration of the narrative.

The film was directed by Rob Reiner, based on the novel by Stephen King, and it’s entirely effective, constantly frightening. (William Goldman adapted the script, which could also explain this.) There is very little compositional art to this film, as I have noticed in many Rob Reiner films, but every shot displays exactly what needs to be seen. Narrative plants have payoffs, and you never question it for a second. Misery is a textbook film crafted by textbook authors of the highest caliber.

Making things more interesting, few plot points are surprising. They’re just so well done, you don’t really mind. Bates and Caan give convincing, commanding, human performances, with Bates establishing one of the cinema’s scariest antagonists, and I won’t look at them the same way again.

Watching this film is like driving along the edge of a mountain: you know it’s going to be dangerous, and you can see the slick spots from a mile away, but that doesn’t make it any less terrifying once you reach them. This film is a writer’s worst nightmare, and I love it.

3 Green

Misery is available on Amazon Prime Video.

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