Directed by Rob Reiner • Written by William Goldman • Novel by Stephen King
With James Caan, Kathy Bates and Lauren Bacall.
Based on the Stephen King novel, Misery stars James Caan as a successful pulp writer, who as we meet him, has completed his latest novel and is preparing to drive home from the wintry Colorado haven he uses as a creative retreat, to deliver the final draft to his publisher. On the way, he runs into bad weather and plants his car in front of a tree. Luckily for him, Kathy Bates’s Annie Wilkes was just passing by. Insert sarcastic emoji face.
Without any ado, the film gets its weird on. Bates’s creepy home has a Norman Bates feel, as her skew-whiff diligence toward the badly injured Caan immediately sets off our creep sensors. As he lays there, utterly dependent, the movie quickly establishes itself as a survival thriller, as Caan’s vulnerability forces him into a psychological battle of wits with Bates. On this level, the film is never less than fascinating.
Under the Hitchcockian, psycho-thriller surface of Misery, there’s a sizeable amount of black humour in both Kathy Bates’s over-the-top delivery and James Caan’s dry placation of her. It’s hard not to see the humour when Bates exclaims – “YOU! YOU DIRTY BIRD!”. Her cartoon-like demeanour is accentuated by her characteristic contradictions; she’ll smash you with a sledgehammer but heaven forbid you use a curse word.
Rob Reiner summons Alfred Hitchcock at nearly every turn, managing to create levels of threat and suspense that the master himself would have been proud of. Bates conveys great danger, finding a rare edge in her performance that makes us fear the slightest misplaced word from Caan.
In a sense, Misery is a strange little film. It’s housed within the parameters of just a few performances and feels structurally akin to The Shining, sharing the popcorn-fun repeat watch-ability of Kubrick’s classic, if not the overall sense of otherness. Bates and Caan are excellent, though, and the deep reverence for Hitchcock doesn’t hurt. 4/5