Throwback Thursday: It’s New Year’s Eve—Let’s Not Dwell on Misery

Throwback Thursday examines films from the past—“classic” films that might not be in the current cultural zeitgeist but can still be important in some aspect.

It’s cold and gross out, and some of you might actually be at work today. If you are, I’m sorry to hear that. But hopefully you can have an enjoyable New Year’s Eve night and pass the time between now and then with a little throwback. It’s a great time to reflect on what we have and where we want to be. I can guarantee you that Paul Sheldon isn’t where he wants to be in the 1990 film Misery.

Film poster

Film poster

Based on the 1987 novel of the same name by Stephen King, Misery is directed by Rob Reiner. It stars a shell-shocked James Caan and the best fan in the world, Kathy Bates. Caan plays a successful novelist, Paul Sheldon, who while finishing up his latest manuscript gets caught in a blizzard and crashes his car. He is rescued by Annie Wilkes, his self-proclaimed number-one fan, and brought back to health. The downside is that Annie isn’t exactly the most balanced person in the world and takes Paul’s books a little too seriously. When she gets to read a draft of his new novel and discovers he kills off her favorite character, she decides to keep him until he can “fix” the ending.

Kathy Bates is "helping" James Caan

Kathy Bates “helping” James Caan

Misery is not incredibly graphic as horror films go; it definitely plays like a suspense film with horror elements. After the coming-of-age Stand by Me, Reiner wanted to try his hand at something different. Bring in the master of horror—King and his surprisingly down-to-earth novel were just what he was looking for. The director does a great job building up the suspense in this film, starting with the first meeting of the two main characters (where things seem just a bit “off”) to the edge-of-your seat conclusion.

Caan plays wonderfully against type, focusing on the reactionary nature of his character and allowing Bates to take the driver’s seat—and she takes him on the ride of his life. At the same time, she makes this damaged “woman with a past” almost sympathetic . . . until the crazy comes out. Then you’re definitely rooting for Paul to make it out of the situation. Kathy Bates was nominated and, deservingly so, won an Oscar for her role in Misery.

Still "helping"

Still “helping”

There is a scene in this film so expertly shot it reminds me of the shower scene in Psycho. You see a lot, but not nearly as much as you think you do—the camera, sound effects, practical effects, and two actors gel perfectly. If you’ve seen the movie, you know exactly which scene I’m referring to. If not, then I will just hint that it involves a technique to keep horses from straying.

Besides the amazing acting, what stands out in this film for me is the number of locations. Other than the opening few scenes and the epilogue, the film is entirely shot in a couple rooms of a house. On TV, this would be referred to as a bottle episode, but here it is just a way to draw the audience into the lives and psyches of the characters. I was surprised this story had not made into a stage play, but lo and behold, it was just adapted and hit the stage this year, and it might even be up for some Tony awards.

Needless to say, when the whole film primarily takes place in a limited space, you really have to be creative with camera angles and keeping the film interesting, with a sense of movement and momentum. Reiner, a longtime director, brought in an expert cinematographer in Barry Sonnenfeld, who went on to become a big-time director himself.

Blizzards are the worst.

Blizzards are the worst.

On a day like today, be thankful that you’re not caught in a blizzard and being rescued by Annie Wilkes. Be thankful for what you have. I know I am.

This film can be found on both Blu-ray and DVD. It is currently available via Netflix rental and streaming right now, but streaming offerings change frequently, so keep an eye out. Feel free to discuss further in the comments below; just keep it respectful.

If you think there’s a film Throwback Thursday should cover in the future, please let me know in the comments.

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