Review : Misery (1990)

Rob Reiner’s adaptation of Misery was released in 1990 and stars Kathy Bathes and James Caan as the main characters. The novel, written by Stephen King, was published in  1987. Stephen King intended to release the novel under the Richard Bachman name but his secret identity was discovered before publication.

Paul Sheldon is the successful writer of the best-selling series, Misery. Having completed his new novel, he drives to meet with his editor. However, on the way, he gets into a severe accident. He is rescued by his self-proclaimed “number one fan”, Annie Wilkes, who nurses him back to health. Paul, unable to leave the house because of his injuries (and more injuries inflicted by the number one fan herself), is forced to write a new story while the local authorities try and find him after discovering his body is not at the scene of the car accident.

Good adaptations of Stephen King’s work are unfortunately a rare occurrence. Rob Reiner’s Misery is not among the good ones : it is among the few great ones. The film is simple and straightforward but it works impeccably. The tension is palpable and keeps increasing until the final confrontation. There are no twists or unexpected turns of events because the story doesn’t need them. 

Kathy Bathes really shines as Annie Wilkes and her Academy Award was well-deserved. Watching her go from a caring nurse to a psychopathic fanatic is scary and unsettling. It takes only one second for her to become enraged. James Can, however, is more passive and while he gives a good performance, he is no match for Kathy Bathes.

Stephen King explained that his novel is an allegory for drug addiction, which he struggled with for many years. The film definitely demonstrates the inability to escape someone (or something) who has a firm grip on an individual. But more than the underlying theme, the most interesting and compelling aspect of Misery is its characters.

Annie Wilkes is terrifying, especially when she has psychotic fits of rage. Paul Sheldon, who is trapped in his own success, must now fight to escape (literally). There are two minor characters who I absolutely love : the town sheriff and his wife. I loved their cute relationship and was surprised that the sheriff is not a simpleton (as small town authorities are often depicted). He is the only one who gets very close to finding the missing writer. 

Misery is a character-driven story which will keep you on the edge of your seat. It is an absolute classic which everyone should watch.

 

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Review : Cujo (1983)

Cujo is a novel written by Stephen King which was published in 1981. Two years later, Lewis Teague brought King’s story to the big screen in an adaptation starring Dee Wallace, Daniel Hugh-Kelly and Danny Pintauro. The plot of Cujo is simple : a rabid dog terrorizes a woman and her son, trapping them into their car for two days.

The film opens with Cujo chasing a rabbit into a hole. Trying to reach his prey, the dog is bitten by rabid bats on the nose. The viewer is then introduced to the Trenton family : Donna (the frustrated wife having an affair), Vic (who works in advertisement and is often away on business trips) and their young son Tad (who is afraid there is a monster in his closet). The film focuses on the family’s daily life for the entire first half, showing us how their apparent happiness hides frustration and lies. In parallel, we see Cujo becoming sicker as time passes. This first half resembles more a made-for-TV family drama than the premise of a horror film.

Unfortunately, the slow pace really hurts the rhythm of the film, which is quite boring until the main characters finally encounter Cujo. When Donna and her son bring their car for repair at Cujo’s owners’ house, they find the location empty. The rabid dog attacks them, forcing them to stay inside the car…which, of course, refuses to start. A Saint-Bernard is hardly scary and Cujo does little more than running towards the car and barking. The sense of menace is therefore rather limited and it all quickly becomes repetitive. 

However, the performances from both Dee Wallace and Danny Pintauro are stellar. I found myself wondering what the crew did to traumatize the boy as his tears and fear seem too genuine and real to be fake. That little boy will break your heart when you hear him crying of terror.

The story is extremely simplistic and so is the subtext : the mother’s isolation inside the vehicle echoes the sense of entrapment she feels in her marriage. It is a thin story, with very little scares, too much exposition and no pay-off in the end.

 

Review : The Wailing / 곡성 (2016)

The Wailing, written and directed by Na-Hong Jin, was released in 2016. It was screened at the Cannes Festival the same year, out of competition, which helped the film gain interest from the public out of its country of origin.

Mysterious and gruesome murders take place in a peaceful, rural village. Jong-Goo, a family man and somewhat incompetent police officer, hears a growing rumor in the village, blaming a strange Japanese hermit for the violent deaths. Jong-Goo confronts the Japanese man but when his daughter starts showing the same symptoms as the victims prior to their demise, he has no choice but to call a shaman for help.

Trying to explain The Wailing is a very tedious task as it is a strange film, from its story to its narrative. This is a film which requires several viewings to grasp its entire scope. I did enjoy the film upon my first viewing but it left me confused and with a lot of questions. Unlike most thrillers, the more clues are discovered, the more confused you become. At times, I found The Wailing too strange for its own good. The film is also way too long and it hurts the pace. ; it could easily have been shortened by at least thirty minutes. The narrative is sometimes confusing and I found some parts of the film difficult to follow, especially in the first act. The tone changes rather quickly. There are humorous elements in the beginning but the film then becomes an intense horror drama.

The cinematography is especially beautiful and the performances are great. I especially appreciate how the director never shows the crimes being committed. We only get to witness the violent aftermath, rendering us as helpless as the main characters. The highlight of the film is, by far, the ceremony / invocation sequence : it is an editing masterpiece. Two characters are performing two different ceremonies which are edited together to deceive the viewer into misunderstanding a particular character’s role.

The Wailing is a dark, vicious tale which shows people’s inability to distinguish good from evil in the grimmest and strangest way. Hard to follow at times due to the wide range of spiritual references, from shamans to Christianity, The Wailing is not a film you watch, it is a film you experience. Though a shorter version would have been better, The Wailing will haunt you long after the credits roll.