Time: 119 Minutes
Age Rating: contains violence
Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance
Shelley Duvall as Wendy Torrance
Danny Lloyd as Danny Torrance
Scatman Crothers as Dick Hallorann
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) becomes winter caretaker at the isolated Overlook Hotel in Colorado, hoping to cure his writer’s block. He settles in along with his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and his son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), who is plagued by psychic premonitions. As Jack’s writing goes nowhere and Danny’s visions become more disturbing, Jack discovers the hotel’s dark secrets and begins to unravel into a homicidal maniac hell-bent on terrorizing his family.
I once saw The Shining some years ago, I really liked it and really appreciated the impact that it had on the horror genre and cinema as a whole. With the adaptation of the follow up to the book written by Stephen King coming in November, Doctor Sleep, I felt a rewatch was needed. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining had a bit of a mixed reaction upon its release in 1980, however, over time it started to receive some love and nearly 4 decades on now, The Shining is a horror classic today, and for good very reason.
I will say that Kubrick’s The Shining isn’t the best when it comes to it being an adaptation. Stephen King seems to generally like the adaptations of his work, but The Shining is the exception and I can kind of see why. The movie has the general story of the novel, but it plays around with a lot of the plot, characters and how the story is handled. It’s much less a ghost story and much more psychological. There’s also a lot of other aspects that are different, but I won’t go into all that. In that sense, I’m looking at this movie as its own thing, not as an adaptation. If you wanted a more accurate on screen representation, there’s a mini series out there (and from what I heard it’s not that good). Now there are two different cuts of the movie, I more recently saw the shorter version and I can’t remember if I watched the longer version on the first viewing. The plot is rather straight forward, and while it does feature aspects like psychic abilities with The Shining (which Danny has), for the most part the movie is a psychological thriller. It slowly builds up the tension and uneasiness, amps it up in the second half, and in the 3rd act turns into a pure nightmare. It really builds on top of each other as the 3 main characters start going insane over time, particularly Jack (Nicholson). The only other thing that I’d say is that the ending felt a little abrupt, and like there needed to be one more brief scene before the last scene, then again maybe the director’s cut has something extra at the end as well. On that note, so much of this movie is left up to the viewers’ interpretations, especially with the ending. So each person will probably get something different out of it from each other.
Jack Nicholson really was great in the role of Jack Torrance, and his work here has been cemented as one of the most iconic and memorable performances in a horror movie. A lot of the time he can go really over the top and almost a little comedic (intentional or not), but more often than not it’s the more infamous moments (like the now iconic “Here’s Johnny”). Looking at the movie more recently, highly quoted scenes aside, for the most part he seems genuinely unstable and of course knowing Nicholson, he pulls that off fantastically. He never seems right, even before he goes all axe murder you get the feeling that he might already have a screw loose. The only thing that can be said is that his Jack Torrance is quite different from the book’s version. Much of the book has Jack starting out normal and over time going insane. Here, Jack seems already pretty crazy and only gets worse once he arrives at the Hotel. Shelley Duvall gets a bit of a bad wrap for her performance as Wendy, especially in the second half of the movie when she’s terrified. As it turns out it wasn’t even really acting, you can look into it yourself, but long story short let’s just say that Kubrick pushed her quite a bit (large understatement there). There is a certain way that people acted when they’re scared in horror movies and so her performance can seem a little off and over the top, but it actually works for the movie. After all a lot of the movie is over the top anyway. It’s the most genuinely terrified performance I’ve seen from anyone in a horror movie, pushed past the absolute limit. It’s probably one of the most underrated horror performances honestly, even just because of how much underserving hate it had been receiving. Danny Lloyd is also good as the son Danny, who has The Shining, a psychic ability. It might be a random thing to note, but on my most recent viewing I noticed that in terms of horrified expressions in horror movies, his is among the best, it looked like absolute genuine terror. The rest of the cast don’t have more than a few scenes but I guess they do well in their small screentime. Scatman Crothers is only in a few scenes as Dick Hallorann, but he does very well, especially with helping us take the whole concept of ‘The Shining’ seriously.
Stanley Kubrick’s direction is always fantastic, and his work on The Shining is pretty much perfect. He really sets you at this location at the Overlook Hotel. It’s a stunning movie, with the camera movements, angles, the colours of the environment and the environment itself. The camera pans, zoom ins and zoom outs are very effective and really added to the movie a ton. One of the stand out scenes in The Shining in terms of directing was when the camera follows Danny on a Big Wheel around the hotel, it’s not broken by any sort of cuts and builds up a tension as we don’t know what he (and by extension us) is going to see next when he makes a turn. Kubrick manages to make you feel uneasy, even when you know that nothing bad is going to happen just yet. Personally I’m not scared of this movie, but personally I’d say that more effective horror scenes usually involved a lot of quick cuts and zoom ins, there are a few of these moments throughout and it did a good job at making you feel uneasy to say the least. There are so many now iconic images that has forever been burned into the memories of viewers, the blood coming out of the elevator, the maze, the twin sisters, and so on. The music and sounds effects are also great. It ranges from sombre and eerie to screeching (particularly in the third act).
The Shining is a horror classic for a reason, and honestly talking about it was a little hard, considering how redundant it felt given that it’s been talked to death for decades, there’s nothing I could’ve said that hasn’t been said already. The acting from its cast is great, and Stanley Kubrick’s direction is nothing less than masterful. If you haven’t seen The Shining, you need to get around to it soon because it’s really something significant. Even if you aren’t into horror, if you’re into film as an art form, The Shining is pretty much essential viewing.