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Stephanie Korski [Celluloid 07.24.18] horror thriller

The Folio Society recently released a collector's edition of Stephen King's "Misery". In the book, author Paul Sheldon regains consciousness in a stranger’s guest room, his legs shattered and useless. As the intense pain ebbs and flows, rare moments of lucidity lead to the chilling realisation that his rescuer is also his jailer. Annie Wilkes might be Paul’s "number one fan," but she is incensed that he has killed the heroine Misery Chastain in his latest novel. She traps him in her home and forces him to write another novel to fulfill her twisted fantasy.

The film adaptation of the source material is as good as the book and the film is a masterclass in suspense and shifting power dynamics, most notably done through the use of closeups.

The obsessive omnipresence of the antagonist combined with the grave injuries of our hero make for an excellent pressure cooker. Annie sees to it that Paul has very few windows of opportunity with which to plot his escape. In one sequence, Paul convinces Annie to head back into town to pick up a proper type of typewriter paper so that he can begin writing her novel.

When she leaves, he picks the door lock with a bobby pin and wanders the house. Paul's horrifying discoveries are intercut with scenes of Annie heading back home, giving us a great look into the backstory of Annie while putting a clock on it. The use of matching closeup shots
for both characters contrasts Annie's unhurried pace with Paul's frantic race against time. The result is knuckle-biting tension.

Power Dynamics
From the moment of his rescue, Annie has all control over Paul, leaving him helpless. The audience is trapped in the room with him, watching from his position as Annie slowly loses her mind. Soon enough Paul gets his bearings and begins to strip Annie of some of that control behind her back. The audience becomes aware of the things he has hidden up his sleeves unbeknownst to Annie. Seeing as Paul's world has become very small, he is forced to think micro, an area that Annie has neglected to look. We see a lot of Paul's world through the use of
tight closeups - his biggest victories (snagging a bobby pin to pick a lock with) and his biggest failures (putting the penguin statue back on the table facing in the wrong direction, betraying his presence in the rest of the house to Annie).

Annie quickly shifts the power back to herself when she wanders into Paul's room, markedly depressed. Her vulnerability causes the viewer to border on sympathy, until a quick cutaway shows her pulling a gun from her pocket as she explains her desire to use it on both herself and Paul. This single closeup is the biggest indication so far in the film of Annie's emotional instability and desire for violence, forcing Paul's hand: it's now or never.

The film is delightfully twisted, and the slow unraveling of Annie's character will keep viewers guessing about the protagonist's fate all the way until the end of the third act. The cat and mouse game between these two characters is skillfully written and executed. As far as
"monster in the house" films go, this is one of the absolute best the genre has to offer.

Recommended Release: Misery

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