The Shining (1980)

Rating: ****
Review Date: 9/3/17
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson, Joe Turkel

Jack Torrence (Jack Nicholson) takes a job as a caretaker at the seasonal Overlook Hotel, where he and his family live in isolation during the winter months. A previous caretaker went crazy and murdered his wife and children, and the echo of that violent tragedy left a psychic imprint on the hotel that Jack's son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), is sensitive to. Danny has a special psychic ability known as "the shining" that allows him to perceive paranormal activity and see into the future and past, and the future looks quite grim. As the hotel continues to exert its murderous influence, Jack's increasingly volatile behavior leads him to re-enact the grisly murders, forcing his wife (Shelley Duvall) and Danny to try and escape the hotel during a massive snowstorm.

First and foremost, the cinematography is AMAZING and the film looks astonishing. They certainly don't make movies like this anymore. With the recent advent of the Steadicam, director Stanley Kubrick took full advantage of the emergent technology to create a truly epic film of incredible moving camera shots. From the hypnotic opening helicopter shots, to the sprawling hallways of the Overlook Hotel and its claustrophobic hedge maze, the camera is always in motion, as if it were a character in the film. The camera's voyeuristic behavior could imply that it's the persona of the hotel itself, as it watches over its guests. Along with the incredible lighting and art direction, the film is a stunning cinematic achievement.

Kubrick's attention to detail is noteworthy, and the massive set that was built for the hotel is awe-inspiring. Growing up in Boulder, some of the locations were immediately recognizable, which added an extra touch of authenticity. He even used one of Denver's radio stations (KHOW 63) along with their morning show personalities during a winter storm broadcast, which was pretty neat. It made me wonder if the other regional newscasts in the film were also authentic. And then there's the typing scene where Jack's sanity first starts to unravel. I generally hate typing scenes because they typically just have someone quickly clicking a bunch of random keys that don't make any sense. But in this film, you can actually tell that Jack is typing "all work and no play" based on the number of keys pressed, the sound of each key, and the cadence of his typing. I found that very impressive.

The performances are excellent, and Jack Nicholson is completely unhinged as a frustrated artist, a recovering alcoholic, and an unhappy husband and father. His madness is eerily tangible and his violent outbursts are truly frightening - as are his wildly out of control eyebrows. Shelley Duvall plays Jack's mousy and unassuming wife, Wendy, to perfection, and is constantly on the verge of hysteria. Reportedly, Kubrick was deliberately mean to her and pushed her so hard that her performance turned out to be a genuine reflection of her experience on the set. For a child actor, Danny Lloyd does a wonderful job as a gifted and frightened boy with a split personality. Scatman Crothers is delightful as the hotel's chef, who knows about "the shining" and doubles as Danny's mentor and confidant.

The story diverges considerably from Stephen King's original novel, which is something that Stanley Kubrick intended from the very beginning. It's more of a psychological study in madness rather than a haunted house ghost story, although supernatural elements are definitely involved (depending on your particular interpretation). As a horror film, it's not especially scary, but Kubrick's imagery is consistently chilling and unsettling. Some of his visions simply don't make any sense, which leaves the viewer wallowing in confusion. The film is nearly 2.5 hours long and moves at a glacial pace, which in anyone else's hands could have been a complete disaster. However, the performances, cinematography, art direction, symbolism, and overall weirdness are constantly fascinating and demand your attention. The film wasn't received very well when it first came out, as audiences wanted shocking gore and jump scares from the horror genre at the time. They weren't interested in or prepared for Kubrick's long-winded psychological essay, and it wouldn't be until much later that the film found renewed interest and was re-evaluated as one of the best horror films ever made. If nothing else, that's ample evidence that Stanley Kubrick was a mad creative genius who happened to be years ahead of his time.