One of the most referenced movies of all time, the title ‘Misery’ pretty much encapsulates the movies subject material.
For those of you who don’t know the plot, or at least haven’t deduced it from the well renowned ‘hobbling’ finale, ‘Misery’ shows exactly why Stephen King is the master of horror writing. Only he could not only have come up with a scenario so feasible, but continued to write a story whose realism becomes its most poignant element.
In ‘Misery’ author ‘Paul Sheldon’ retreats, as he always does, to his snowy hilltop retreat out in no-where-USA to complete his latest novel. He is most famous for his ‘Misery’ novels – period pieces where the titular Misery is one of the lead characters – but this novel is different. He finishes the book, smokes a well-earned cigarette and downs a glass of the finest, before driving back down the treacherously icy mountain pass back to civilisation. Or at least that’s how it should have happened.
Sadly this time he doesn’t quite make it. The elements get the better of him and he crashes his car. Fortunately for him his guardian angel is watching over him. A ‘number one fan’ by the name of Annie Wilkes rescues him and nurses him back to health… well sort of. Unfortunately for him she isn’t playing with the full anthology, and her fixation of the novels quickly transfers to a fixation with the novelist, and it’s not long before the term ‘killing with kindness’ takes on a whole new meaning.
“Write or die!”
Ultimately the overarching storyline is that Sheldon must write a new ‘Misery’ novel in the exact way Wilkes wants it, or she will kill him. Despite the movies fairly violent reputation there are only few scenes of violence, and despite its leaning to the whole ‘torture’ subgenre, rest assured this is a more mature and atmospheric approach to the concept. That said the ‘hobbling’ scene is one of the most intense displays of violence I have seen in any movie, and there’s a rather bloody (and tragic) shogun killing also. No, the main horror elements of this movie come from the constant tension of Sheldon having to both appease and outwit Wilkes’ constantly schizophrenic behaviour in order for him to see another day.
As with the majority of King’s novels the devil is in the details. In this case all of the detail is in both the script and development of the two main characters, both of whom make up about ninety percent of the films modest run time. Both characters are played by established actors with James Cann playing Sheldon, and Katy Bates pulling off the role of her life as Wilkes. Despite their credibility as actors, I doubt either have played roles such as this, or replaced the onscreen chemistry they shared. Sheldon’s humble yet brilliant mind verses Wilke’s dangerously naive and principled outlook on life could not be any more contrasting, and you never really lose the feeling of impending doom, as, one way or the other, someone has to lose. Needless to say ‘unpredictability’ is the aim of the game, you never know quite where the movie is heading; not in the way that the plot is garbled, but in a way that the set pieces which keep the formula movie at a pace seem to take the form of fresh, ever changing, no-way-out style games of cat and mouse. However you look at it, for most of the movie there is little going on, but the darkly witty script, and then ultimately visceral conclusions keep you engrossed!
Overall, most horror fans my age will have seen ‘Misery’ as they were growing up and to them I would say to revisit it – it still makes an impact, like a lump hammer to the ….. 😉
It, along with ‘The Shining’, showcases King’s love of using psychological breakdown to add in the whole its-scary-because-it’s-real vibe. Here it works fantastically, so if you haven’t seen it ‘Misery’ should be amongst your next batch of movie purchases.