Film Review: Misery (1990)

Kathy Bates in  Misery  | Ear of Newt

Kathy Bates in Misery | Ear of Newt

Sometimes I can trick myself into thinking I like scary movies (I’m a really good enabler). But of course, it was gonna take more than just my mind to get past the first five minutes of Sinister (2012) - which to this day, I have yet to watch past that first scene. There are only about a handful of horror movies that I have watched, and of those, I’ve seen Rob Reiner’s Misery (1990) at least six times. Based on the iconic story by the prolific horror king himself, Stephen King, Misery is about this extremely psychopathic stan who wants to keep her favorite author captive until he writes the story that she wants - and it goes awry when he realizes she's trying to kill him.

Looking back at this movie, the theme and premise is kind of revolutionary, especially considering it came out in 1990. For all of those #stans out there who’ve ever had an obsession with a person, a property, or both, Misery displays a sort of extreme manifestation of fan culture. Annie Wilkes, a former nurse played wickedly by Oscar-winner Kathy Bates, is in love with this “Misery” novel series by a Paul Sheldon (James Caan) - she has every single book and clipped every possibly newspaper article about Paul and/or Misery. She’s just a good ol' regular fan like any other and is more than honored to help out her favorite author when he turns up in a snow storm car accident near her house. But things become weird when she nurses him just back to enough “health” for him to lay strapped to her guest bed as she forces him to write her fantasy fanfiction version of his final addition to Misery. Literally, imagine if someone kidnapped J.K. Rowling at the heyday of Harry Potter and strapped her to a bed until she wrote their smutty Drarry fanfic and published it. That’s what Misery is. Ultimately, the film culminates in Paul realizing that Annie is batshit out of her mind (with a murderous criminal record for killing babies in hospitals to boot) and when he tries to escape, a bloody and explosive fight scene to the death erupts between them, leading to Paul knocking her the fuck out with a golden pig figurine. 

Kathy Bates & James Can in  Misery  | New York Times/Bloody Disgusting

Kathy Bates & James Can in Misery | New York Times/Bloody Disgusting

As a horror movie, Misery works in every way. It’s got the perfect setting (a small, White town - where all scary movies take place), clueless white people, a steady build-up of thrilling tension, and an omnipotent evil presence to fuck everyone over. And what I think makes this film even better is that the evil presence is not necessarily Annie as a psychopath but Annie as a completely obsessed stalker fan. This obsessiveness consumes Annie and drives her to 1) kidnap this man, 2) “nurse” his injured body to hell so he becomes dependent on her, 3) literally butcher his ankles with a sledgehammer so he can’t escape, and 4) insist that they die together. 

Misery is a fantastic horror movie, but I’m prepared to make the argument that it’s also a great and specific social thriller (as coined by Jordan Peele of Get Out), focusing on obsessive stan culture. If you look at big cultural properties that are known for their fandoms, be it Beatlemania, Directioners/Beliebers, the Beyhive, ARMY, or even cults like the Manson Family, there are symptoms of extremely negative fan habits EVERYWHERE. Obviously most aren't as extreme as Annie Wilkes, but there are those sasaeng fans that will go to great lengths to do dangerous/disgusting things to their object of obsession.

Fun fact: iCarly did a parody of this movie.