So looking through what I’ve watched this year, I was surprised to see just how few older films I’d watched this year, around 6 or so not from this decade and 2 not from this century. I don’t think that something being older necessarily makes it better or more worthy, but I’ve certainly got complacent in broadening my viewing since I stopped doing film studies. So, with this in mind, I’ve decided to make an effort to watch more films from the 20th century and I started with Misery.
Based on a Stephen King novel, the film is about a famous franchise author, Paul Sheldon (James Caan) who finishes the last novel in his series only to get in a serious accident due to a snowstorm. Luckily he is rescued and taken home by a woman named Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), who just so happens to be his biggest fan. I feel like by this point nearly 30 years on and with a character as iconic as Annie Wilkes, most people kind of know the vague outline of the plot. I thought I wouldn’t enjoy it so much with my knowledge going in but I was surprised at how fun and thrilling it was. It wouldn’t be controversial to say just how FANTASTIC Kathy Bates is in this, since it’s her Oscar winning role. I had only seen her in American Horror Story before this and loved her in every part she plays so I was really curious to see her in this. She has moments when her eyes are just wild, exacerbated by low angled shots zooming in uncomfortably close, then at other points her eyes are dead cold. All of this mania comes under the veneer of a quirky homebody who doesn’t swear and loves romance novels perhaps a bit too much, she’s a character who feels just as relevant now. Her performance is scary but also just a ton of fun to watch, even with some level of plot knowledge going in, she’s still unpredictable. Whilst not as showy a role as Annie Wikes, James Caan is perfect as Paul Sheldon, a man in the most horrifying predicament. Caan has amazing micro-expressions that come out as he tries to negotiate his situation with Annie from a completely powerless position having to keep so much of his feeling below the surface.
One thing I wasn’t so sure about was the heavy inclusion of the local Sherrif Buster (Richard Farnsworth) and his wife/deputy Virginia (Frances Sternhagen). The duo are funny and instantly, consistently likable, they provide a change in pace and tone, but I wonder if the film would be better off from Paul’s contained perspective. [SPOILERS] Buster ends up having very little impact on the plot, he investigates, eventually makes a connection to Annie only to get shot dead. Having time with the character means that his arrival on the Wilkes farm is contextualised and not at all deus ex machina-ey, although he fails in saving Sheldon so that wouldn’t be an issue anyway. It could be argued that having followed him, when he arrives at the house, it’s more hopeful than if it were an unknown cop we hadn’t met and feel like it could wrapping up, I was certainly sad he died. [SPOILERS END] I wasn’t sure how I felt about these quite drastic changes in tone, it’s not a long film so its probably helpful in avoiding the A-plot being dragged out with unnecessary scenes thus losing tension, and break up some scenes that play quite similarly too each other whilst providing passage of time. I’m not really sure how I felt about it, but it did bug me initially at least.
Overall, it was a really great, fun, tight thriller with top notch performances, taut direction and good production design. I’ll definitely be watching it again, maybe even soon!