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 Paul Sheldon, a successful pulp writer. He’s preparing to drive from the wintry Colorado haven he uses as a creative retreat to deliver the final draft of his latest novel to his publisher. On the way he runs into bad weather and rolls his car. Luckily for him, Annie Wilkes was just passing by.
Without ado, the film gets its weird on. Annie’s creepy home has a Norman Bates feel as her skew-whiff diligence toward the badly injured Caan immediately sets off our sensors. As he lays incapacitated, utterly dependent on Wilkes the movie quickly establishes itself as a psychological survival thriller as Sheldon’s vulnerability forces him into a battle of wits with Wilkes.
Under its Hitchcockian psycho-thriller hood there’s a sizeable amount of black humour in both Annie’s tendancy to blow a gasket and Paul’s anxious placation of her. It’s hard not to see the humour when Wilkes exclaims, “You! You dirty bird!“. Her goofy demeanour is accentuated by her characteristic contradictions – she’ll threaten you with a sledgehammer but heaven forbid you utter a curse word.
Director Rob Reiner summons Alfred Hitchcock at nearly every turn, managing to create levels of threat and suspense that the master himself would be proud of. Through her desperate obsession Wilkes’s mood can flick like a switch, prompting us fear the slightest misplaced word from her prisoner.
Misery is 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.