Monday, October 4, 2010

2010 Geek Fright Fest: Misery

Misery (1990)
Rated R (for violence and language)

Directed by Rob Reiner

Kathy Bates
James Caan
Richard Farnsworth
Lauren Bacall

After famous romance novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan) completes his latest book, he makes his usual drive down the mountain from Silver Creek, Colorado. He hits a blizzard on his way down (living in Colorado myself, surprise snowfalls are not uncommon) and wrecks his car. He is rescued by Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), a former nurse, who happens to be Sheldon's "#1 fan". Initially, he feels lucky to have been saved in the rural area, but he soon realizes that he might have been better off before, especially since his nurse and #1 fan is a raging psychopath.

Reiner uses classic filmmaker's tricks to ramp up the suspense. When Annie begins to fly into a rage, he zooms in on her face until it fills up the screen, making her appear huge. Sinister sounding music grows steadily louder in the background, amping up the tension. A close up on a penguin figurine put back the wrong way lets the audience know that it will figure into the plot later. Scenes of Sheldon attempting to escape intercut with those of Annie on her way home from the store also create suspense, especially knowing that the writer is unable to walk. One of my favorite shots is a tilted view of the outside of Annie's house, foreshadowing that something is wrong. The shot precedes a scene where Annie is clearly in a depressive state.

In one of the more psychologically terrifying scenes of the film, Sheldon flips through Annie's scrapbook and discovers what a monster she truly is. It also prepares the audience for the "hobbling scene", the most famous scene in the film.

With the bulk of the film carried by two characters, the principle actors have to be excellent. Needless to say, Caan and Bates rise to the challenge. Bates' portrayal of Annie Wilkes begins as a kind, motherly figure and quickly descends into a fanatical, sadistic demi-god who holds Sheldon's very life in her hands. Caan is also fantastic. His pain and discomfort is palpable, and the audience can see the terror grow as Annie becomes more and more insane. Caan doesn't say much in his performance, but his excellent body language shows off his acting skill. Caan also has an amazing sense of timing, especially with sarcasm, and he plays off of Bate's performance beautifully.

Reiner is more widely known for his comedies, but this movie, in addition to Stand By Me and A Few Good Men, shows that he can also do drama. It is a well-crafted film that harkens back to thriller classics like Rear Window and Wait Until Dark.

An added treat was the sheriff, played by Richard Farnsworth. Farnsworth played Matthew Cuthbert in the Anne of Green Gables miniseries around the same time this film was made. The series was one of my favorite childhood movies, and I loved Farnsworth's portrayal. He started out as a highly regarded stuntman, but after 20 years decided to act. At the age of 50, he became a respected character actor and was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in Comes a Horseman. As always, he gives a warm, likeable performance - a much needed relief after dealing with Annie Wilkes. (My favorite line: "You see, it's just that kind of sarcasm that's given our marriage real spice.")

Fright Rating: 2 gasps out of a possible 5

Misery has some violence towards the end, but film's true scares come from the taughtly wraught suspense. (The film is rated R for language and violence.)

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