Misery (1990) Review

It is amazing how one movie can make a character so iconic. Kathy Bates did such a good job of playing the creepy Annie Wilkes that it has transcended this movie and become a template for how to play a deranged stalker in the movies beyond it. The way that she manages to flip from calm, quiet, nice and caring to outraged, temperamental and downright crazy. Her actions support this and Annie does some of the most hard to watch things in a movie – very effectively managed considering it usually occurs off-screen.

It is even more successful because the victim in this movie is played by an actor usually so well-known for being the tough, intimidating gangster himself – James Caan. He plays the injured, almost crippled writer who Bates’ character is obsessed with. Seeing her make him scared, worried and vulnerable is testament to both of their skills as actors.

The casting in the movie is inspired!

It is also testament to the writing of the movie itself. Misery is scary without being a full-on horror. It doesn’t rely on jump-scares, gore or shocking imagery. This is a movie about anticipation. You will be on the edge of your seat as you watch Caan trying to pull his body, lifeless legs a hindrance, through the house or back to his wheelchair before Annie gets back from her “errands.” The movie also adds that dejected feeling when you think Caan has finally outwitted his captor but something, even insignificant, manages to trip-up and foil his efforts.

The character of Annie is also used well to add surprise and shocks in different places. The way in which her character flips-out and her mood changes so rapidly, often after Caan has said something inconsequential or innocent, adds to the constant feeling of terror and dread.

The way the movie slowly builds the dread is extremely effective

This all builds to an extremely effective finale which manages to capture all the tension that built before-hand and erupt it into one of the most effective “battles” you’ll see. Much more effective because with every action, strike or moment, you are willing Caan’s character on and hoping he manages to finally escape his scary captor.

All this and the movie barely leaves the claustrophobic setting of Annie Wilkes house. This makes the situation Caan is stuck in even more desperate. You do get some very welcome support in places, no more so than the old sheriff and his comical wife, but even their “ending” manages to increase the threat of Wilkes further.

Overall, it is plain to see why Misery has become such an iconic movie. From the claustrophobic setting, the great build in constant dread, terror and tension and the excellently creepy, downright scary Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes, this movie will keep you on the edge of your seat. It is practically a two-hander and one that is executed so well by the central characters who make up the roles.

Rating – 4

(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)

Kathy Bates has never been better


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