Logline: A writer becomes the caretaker of an isolated hotel where he takes his wife and child for the winter, unaware that the hotel’s evil forces will drive him to madness.
Review: Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining stands alongside Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963), and Jaws (1975) as one of the greatest horror films of all time. As the film’s tagline proclaims, it truly is a masterpiece of modern horror, brought to the screen by one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. Kubrick, known for such films as Dr. Strangelove (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and A Clockwork Orange (1971) brings his craft to the horror genre in this classic film.
Beautifully shot, it is evident that meticulous care went into every frame. Kubrick was known for his excessive retakes. For example, the scene in which Dick Hallorann talks to Danny about his “shining” took one hundred and forty eight takes before Kubrick was satisfied. However, Kubrick’s perfectionism and obsessive attention to detail paid off. The film is visually stunning. Its striking imagery, such as a vision of two murdered twins in the hallway and blood flowing out of the elevator, will become engrained in your mind.
The legendary low tracking shots follow Danny on his big wheel as he travels through the hotel’s long, winding corridors. The Overlook Hotel’s architecture and design feel very much of a bygone era. The film is imbued with a constant sense of dread. The overall sense of doom is amplified by the film’s haunting music, most of which is classical. However, some original music appears in the film, as in the opening driving sequence shot in Glacier National Park, Montana.
The film is full of great scenes. Some of my personal favorites include the one in which Wendy finds Jack’s writings by his typewriter, which read nothing but “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.” Jack enters the room and the following shot-reverse-shot dialogue between the two is remarkable with both actors at their best. Another scene that I love takes place in the bathroom, where Wendy is hiding. As in many other horror films such as Diabolique (1955), Psycho, and Repulsion (1965), the bathroom becomes a place of dread.
Jack Nicholson gives his most brilliant crazed performance here and he is utterly fantastic. Shelley Duvall, often overlooked for her performance, is also stellar. Kubrick was notoriously hard on Duvall during filming and the actress proclaims it was the most difficult film she ever made. In his first and only film role, Danny Lloyd is great as the young Danny Torrance. Scatman Crothers gives a great supporting role as Hallorann.
The Shining is very different from the Stephen King novel on which it is based. King has made clear his dissatisfaction with the film. In my opinion, it is far superior to King’s novel. The film brings many horror elements to the table and is anything but a typical “haunted house” movie. In fact, there is a certain level of ambiguity in the film not present in the novel especially in the final shot of a photograph taken in 1921. It is a fantastic way to end the film that brings many questions to mind.
Though curiously not well received critically upon its initial release, The Shining has become a horror classic. In the hands of master filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, it is pure cinema and remains one of my favorite films of all time. “Heeere’s Johnny!”
Rating (out of ****): ****