OCTOBER HORROR PARTY REVIEW #16: Misery (1990) – dir. Rob Reiner

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I’m not exactly sure what compelled me to watch Misery this October when there are certainly a million other worthwhile, much better horror films to check out. Nonetheless, I felt more like this was a necessary watch, rather than one that I’d be sure to have a good time with (basically the same reasons I watched Easy Rider, which I didn’t enjoy much). Nonetheless, I’ve enjoyed most of the Stephen King adaptations that I’ve watched, so I figured that I’d really like this as well, at least a little bit. In general, I thought the acting was superb, the atmosphere was perfectly tense, and I never found myself getting bored over its mundanity. Still, it somehow failed to leave a long-lasting impression for very long after I viewed it. I guess one could say that it doesn’t really possess a true fleshed-out personality of its own, even though it seems to do everything “right”.

It’s a simple tale of obsession to the point of violent hostage, and the narrative always feels like it’s a step ahead of what viewers are expecting from it. I really appreciated this aspect of it, presenting itself as a collection of chronological scenes that only subtly unfurl itself through the passing of time. Also, fitting in with my journey to watch as many Oscar-winning films as possible, I was not let down by Best Actress winner Kathy Bates for her performance as the sadistic Annie Wilkes. She sufficiently kept up this air of lingering instability in ways that made her initially charming, but mostly terrifying. She’s such a great horror villain who ran with the material given to her, and I can’t praise her perfection in this role enough.

kathy bates in miseryHowever, despite my initial positive responses to this film, I couldn’t help feeling particularly uneasy about its gender politics. At this point, it comes as no surprise that a work composed by King would be at least slightly misogynous; I’m not familiar with the story from which this is adapted, but perhaps this would count as one further example of such. Wilkes’ appearance and demeanor is formulated in a way to make her the antithesis of what is considered “normal and healthy” womanhood. Sure she’s nurturing, but she’s also prone to violent bursts of anger and is practically asexual. To combine such traits with extreme mental instability gives a slanted message to what people (see: men) should find scary and further perpetuates already-existing myths of what traits and personalities women should avoid at all costs. It’s not particularly toxic or pervasive in Misery, but I do think it’s important to point these out, as it personally discomforted me throughout its entirety.

Misery is one of those films that, while not frequently discussed as a masterpiece by any means, seems to be ingrained in the fabric of our culture nonetheless. Much like Taxi DriverScarface, and When Harry Met Sally…, this is highly due to one particular scene, and whether one has seen Misery or not, they probably know exactly which scene I mean. The scene also embodies what I really didn’t expect to find in the film – that being a sense of humor. It’s a pitch black sense of humor, sure, but I think it works itself fairly well. Overall I’d say, aside from the few previously-mentioned setbacks, Misery is pretty solid and works very well in its own respects. That being said, I’m not sure I’d be willing to watch it again – at least, not for anything other than Kathy Bates being awesome.

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