Director: Stanley Kubrick.
Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick, Diane Johnson.
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson, Joe Turkel, Anne Jackson.
Despite being one of horror’s most prolific and impressive writers, Stephen King’s novel don’t always transfer well to the screen. Reportedly, he can’t stand this adaptation of his work as director Stanley Kubrick changed a lot from the original source material. If that’s the case and this is the end result, then maybe more director’s should add their own spin on King’s work as this is one of the genre’s finest horror movies.
Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is a novelist who agrees to become the caretaker of the secluded ‘Overlook Hotel’ during the winter to work on his new book. To keep him company, Jack takes his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) along with him. However, the hotel has a history of gruesome murders taking place at the hands of the previous caretaker. Not before long, evil and spiritual presences influence the behaviour of an increasingly unstable Jack, while Danny begins to experience prophetic visions.
What can really be said about the The Shining that hasn’t been said already? Quite simply, it’s a classic. I could just leave it at that and move along to something else but I’ll shed a little light on why it can be – and predominantly is – regarded as such. First off, for any horror to achieve it’s full potential, it’s essential that it gets the mood right and this can certainly claim to have that. There is a sense of foreboding and feeling of dread that permeates almost every scene. Kubrick’s approach is to linger long on shots and seemingly empty spaces. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a horror where looking at static furniture in a hallway – waiting for something to happen – has ever been more creepy. That something rarely ever does happen but it’s Kubrick’s use of lavish sets, designed in the most meticulous detail, that’s visual arresting. He uses vast, well lit, rooms and corridors yet creates a smothering feeling of darkness and claustrophobia. The power of the setting itself can often be overlooked as to how horrifying it really is, as most of the horror comes in the form of a maniacal Jack Nicholson; his decent into murderous madness is one of his finest and most iconic performances. There’s not many actors that can channel a character so demented and unbalanced yet remain, very much, a pleasure to watch – even root for. My biggest issue with the film would be Shelley Duvall; I’ve never really been a fan of hers and despite putting in a good show here, she’s too irritating and hysterical – leaving you with the feeling that maybe Jack should just ‘bash her brains in’. That being said, the relationship between the two add a curious nature to the story. On the surface it would seem that’s it’s a decent into madness from Torrance but there’s ambiguity involved. Could it possibly be the vulnerability of Wendy and her unresolved past issues with her husband’s physical abuse of their child, manifesting in her own decent? Does she even exist, or is she a figment of Torrance’s imagination? Or is it vice-verse? It’s this very ambiguity that raises the film above a conventional horror story and Kubrick only teases the audience with the details, never fully revealing them and leaving it open to argument. It’s also benefits from a deliberate pace and some sublime camerawork by John Alcott, not to mention a dynamic, sledgehammer of a score that leaves you shaken and overwhelmed.
This is how unrelenting terror should be delivered; slowly assuredly and with consummate skill in maintaing it’s eerie atmosphere. Kubrick delivers one of his finest pieces of work here and Nicholson follows suit. Let this be a lesson to all.