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Monday, July 14, 2014

My 40 Favorite Films of the 90's - 24 - Misery (1990)

Misery (1990; Castle Rock Entertainment)
Director: Rob Reiner
Writers: Stephen King (Novel), William Goldman
Starring: James Caan, Kathy Bates

Rob Reiner used to direct good movies.  He does not do that anymore, and has had a rather bad track record since the mid 90’s, really starting with the dreadful bane of my existence that is North.  That said, during the 80’s and early 90’s he had a good run, and Misery is one of his best directorial works, lagging just behind the powerful A Few Good Men, the charming When Harry Met Sally and the fan-favorite fantasy The Princess Bride.  Reiner has a knack for visual style and Misery has a really cool idea behind it, focusing the camera mainly in a series of wide shots of a single room, putting the audience in the shoes of a man who is royally screwed, although, at least he is not the poor guy from Audition.

Misery follows the story of an author named Paul Sheldon.  After being injured in a car accident, Sheldon is nursed back to health by a woman named Annie who turns out to be a crazed fan.  Under her care, Sheldon is stuck in his present state, with nobody knowing where he is, and thus begins to finish the last novel of his beloved series in a bed in her cabin.  However, when Annie discovers his intent to kill off her favorite character, her already present insanity turns into utter rage, with events that build and tension that has a steady climb over the course of the film.

Misery is freaking terrifying.  It is not the lazy sort of horror with things jumping out at you shouting “BOO!”  No, this is a story where you are meant to empathize with Sheldon as an artist and a victim.  He cannot leave, he cannot fight her, he is almost entirely helpless through most of the film, and Annie knows it.  She has complete control over him, and as events play out, her attempts to keep him there to “fix” the story become more and more desperate, and violent, and a feeling of dread slowly fills the air over the course of the film.  It is a helpless situation that is elevated thanks to two very excellent performances from two superb talents.  Reiner’s direction goes a long way as well, with wide angle shots that appear as Sheldon’s perspective of the room, which has this strange effect of seeming smaller and smaller as the film goes on, and the low angle shots of Annie, stiffly towering over the severely injured man give a sense of intimidation very early in the movie, really before Annie even does anything all that crazy.  This is a creepy story executed flawlessly thanks to three talents in their prime.

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