Anthony's Film Review

The Shining (1980)

Stanley Kubrick's 1980 horror film is a "shining" classic in the genre...

One of the best scary movies I've ever seen is set in a place of lodging and features a murderous antagonist. Chances are that I am talk about, and you're thinking about, the 1960 movie Psycho, a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock that centers on a killer named Norman Bates at the Bates Motel. That movie was definitely an unforgettably frightening experience, which is what a film like that should do. Bu no, this is not my review of Psycho. I'm thinking of another movie with similar plot elements, released two decades later. I'm talking, of course, about The Shining, a film directed by Stanley Kubrick that centers on a would-be killer named Jack Torrance at the Overlook Hotel.

Based on the novel by Stephen King, The Shining injects fear related to evil spirits at an isolated location. This is a horror movie that excels on foreshadowing and building suspense related to the unseen. It is true that the audience does get to see the spirits, but that is present mainly later in the film, which is exactly what a horror story should do: make you afraid of what you don't see before shocking you with the sight itself. Basically, The Shining achieves the two basic goals of any great film: engage the audience and trigger emotion.

The main characters in The Shining are a family of three in Colorado. Jack Nicholson plays Jack Torrance, a writer who accepts a job as a caretaker for the mountaintop Overlook Hotel, which is closed annually for winter and part of spring. Since the Overlook is such a nice place to stay, Jack brings along his wife Wendy (played by Shelley Duvall) and their six-year-old son Danny (played by newcomer Danny Lloyd). There are a few other supporting characters, but I'll let you discover them for yourself. Putting them aside, the three members of the Torrance family may comprise a small principal cast, but, as the old saying goes, three's a crowd. A lot can happen among Jack, Wendy, and Danny.

This is one of those stories where the setting can be considered an important character in the story. I already mentioned that the Overlook Hotel is a mountaintop hotel that opens except in winter and part of spring. What I haven't pointed out yet is that a previous caretaker for the Overlook had gone crazy from the claustrophobic and isolated feeling of the place and proceeded to murder his wife and two daughters before killing himself. Jack is told this early on, but he brushes the notion side and accepts the job because the Overlook could provide a nice setting for him to focus on writing. Meanwhile, we in the audience start to worry, because we can anticipate that the Overlook is haunted.

Speaking of anticipation, you can already get a sense of it during the film's opening scene while the opening credits scroll upward. We see a lone yellow car driving down a long winding country road, close to a majestic lake and tall snowy mountains. Then the car goes up a mountain road, passing by few cars. Just by watching one tiny car against a vast landscape, you can feel that the audience will be transported to an isolated place where escape and seeking help are not possible. This is one great thing about this movie. Kubrick the director uses creative techniques to generate suspense, such as having the camera continuously follow a character from behind, moving the camera shot to reveal something mysterious, playing heavy suspense music, and having a scene play out very slowly and carefully. If you are an aspiring filmmaker, particularly one interested in horror, you can learn a lot from watching The Shining.

All of these techniques make the Overlook Hotel a scary place to be at. Even as all of the rooms and public corridors look luxurious, you forget about all of it once you realize something is very wrong with this place. The film gradually reveals more and more of the dark spiritual presence in the hotel. The audience will surely feel uneasy about two twin girls in light blue dresses, a bartender who seemingly appears out of nowhere, a vision of blood flooding the hotel, and the curse of Room 237. It just goes to show that no place, no matter how nice it looks, can avoid being cursed. The Overlook Hotel practically puts the traditional horror movie haunted house to shame.

Let's not forget that the characters are what really bring out the fear in us. You may have an already unsettling place, but you also need characters who react to what's around them. And this is where Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, and Danny Lloyd truly shine. Thanks to the powerful performances of this trio, we see a family that is increasingly torn apart. Jack Torrance goes increasingly insane due to the psychological effects of isolationism, and/or perhaps due to the powerful spiritual influence of the murderous caretaker from the past. His wife Wendy becomes increasingly distraught over Jack's behavior and threats to their son's safety. As for Danny, we see a child who is at times anxious and at other times visibly terrified. That's because he has the ability to have supernatural visions. It is this boy who first senses the evil lurking with the Overlook, the darkness of Room 237, and a terrible act against humanity that is about to occur late in the story.

You know how good this movie is? It's so good that it doesn't have only one great scene. It has a LOT of great scenes. I won't be surprised if people typically cannot identify one scene from The Shining that is the best scene, because they point out several equally outstanding scenes. For me, the scenes I cannot forget are as follows: the conversation between Danny and a hotel cook, Danny's vision of two murdered girls, the creepy dialogue between a partially crazed Jack and his son, Wendy skimming Jack's finished manuscript, the bathroom of Room 237, Jack's conversation with a spirit in a public restroom, Danny running through a snow-covered hedge maze, Wendy wielding a baseball bat, Danny using lipstick to write a one-word message, and the cook returning to the hotel. Oh, and don't forget the moment we see Jack at his absolute worst ("Heeeeeeerrrrrrrreeeeeeee's Johnny!").

The Shining is a horror movie that would be deemed a classic only much later after its original release as people increasingly discovered its greatness. I'm surprised that it wasn't a phenomenal movie upon release because I immediately thought it to be phenomenal in its ability to frighten the audience. Oh well. Better late than never. It's gotten the recognition it deserves, and it should stay that way for years to come. Everyone who was a part of this movie should be proud. The Shining is indeed a shining example of great horror cinema.

Anthony's Rating:

For more information about The Shining, visit the Internet Movie Database.


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