Kathy Bates' Sledgehamer Performance
To be honest there aren't that many truly great psycho movies and I am not talking about the "Psycho" movies which featured Norman Bates. Nope I am on about those thrillers where the central character is nice as pie one moment then frighteningly dangerous the next. One such movie which does get it right is "Misery" adapted from Stephen King's novel and directed by Rob Reiner. And the reason "Misery" gets it right is because whilst there is story and characters it doesn't over complicate matters and allows the focus to be on the psychotic Annie Wilkes so brilliantly played by Kathy Bates.
Having made a living by writing about the fictitious heroine Misery Chastaine, novelist Paul Sheldon's (James Caan - El Dorado) latest book is due out and it will be a shock to his followers as he kills off Misery and is already working on his next book, which is the reason why he's been staying up at the Silvercreek Lodge. But having left the lodge and found himself driving in a blizzard he almost dies when he crashes his car only to be rescued by former nurse Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates - White Palace) who as his No.1 fan takes him back to her remote home in the mountains to care for him. But whilst initially grateful for Annie's kindness Paul soon discovers that Annie is psychotic, nice as pie one minute and crazy the next and when she discovers that Paul has killed of her heroine she completely loses it, leaving Paul's life in more peril than if she's left him in his car.
So as already mentioned "Misery" works partly down to the fact that it doesn't complicate things, in fact it keeps things extremely simple. That means that whilst we have the back story of novelist Paul killing off a character who has made him a popular author and then to the outside world going missing when he crashes his car the focus is really on Annie Wilkes his self proclaimed number one fan caring for him. Even the expected subplot surrounding the local sheriff suspecting that Paul's disappearance maybe more than it seems doesn't over complicate things. And so everything rightly revolves around Annie, how she can seem nice as pie one minute and then psychotic the next.
Like with the subplots the actual storyline surrounding Annie taking care of Paul is also very simple but well worked. It takes not time at all to set up the fact that as Paul's No. 1 fan Annie is not the most normal of people, overly nice almost a little simple in the way she lives her life away from everyone else. But it is a shock when we watch Annie flip for the first time, berating Paul when she reads a manuscript for a new book he has been writing because it is so full of expletives. And from that moment on you know that everything is not right, that Annie is frankly quite deranged making you wonder whether normal for her is being nice as pie or whether her dark psychotic side is what normal is.
Things get even more interesting when Annie reads Paul's latest published novel and goes absolutely berserk when she learns that he has killed off the heroine, coming up with the idea that she will force him to right a new book about the character Misery making it seem that she hadn't been killed off. And trust me when Paul tries to escape, which he inevitably does despite having seriously messed up legs from the car crash, the way Annie deals with it has such a visual impact it is like being hit with a sledgehammer.
But it is all very simple, you know that Paul will try and escape, he will try and outwit Annie even if he fears she will go berserk at him. And at the same time you know that whilst Annie is seemingly nice she is always just one comment away from going berserk. But it works because it means that it doesn't over complicate things and focuses pretty much on the character of Annie.
That means that whilst there are nice supporting performances from Lauren Bacall as Paul's agent and Richard Farnsworth as the local sheriff as well as a solid performance from James Caan as Paul it is Kathy Bates who brings "Misery" to life. Right from are initial meeting with her, her over niceness is a bit freaky and her almost simple naivety is a little amusing. Yet when she snaps she is terrifying not only by the fear of what she may do but the way she looks her bright happy eyes turning into an icy stare and that smile just vanishes. It is such a terrifying character because she flips between being nice and being psychotic so quickly that you are never quite sure of what will happen.
What this all boils down to is that "Misery" is one of the great psycho movies, even now over 20 years since it was released. Its strength is partly down to it keeping it simple, not over complicating matters with too many subplots and characters, instead allowing the focus to be Kath Bates as the psychotic Annie Wilkes. And what a performances it is as in Annie you are never sure whether she is going to be nice or nasty and when she is nasty she is a terrifyingly memorable person.