The Shining: Review
Despite receiving generally unfavorable reviews upon its initial release, The Shining is regarded today as one of the best horror movies ever made, as well as one of the scariest and most suspenseful. Helmed by Stanley Kubrick, one of the greatest cinematic influences of the twentieth century, The Shining stands as a fine example of the thinking man’s horror film.
The Shining is not much like a typical horror film. There are no monsters per se except the ones that dwell within the heart and mind of man. In the story a family of three goes to an isolated hotel for the winter where the father may or may not be under the influence of an evil presence that encourages him to commit acts of violence upon his family. On the other hand, he may just be an alcoholic losing the battle with the bottle in the self-imposed prison. Meanwhile, the young son appears to be a psychic experiencing visions of horrific foreboding from the past as well as the possible future. The mother is left to cope the best she can with the increasingly strange behavior of her husband and child.
The Shining is also not at all like any other film Kubrick directed, which for Kubrick was generally par for the course. The acclaimed storyteller is one of the most highly regarded directors of all time, which is particularly notable since he has only 16 titles to his credit. His impact upon generations of filmmakers is all the more impressive when one considers the versatility of the relatively small number of films within the body of his completed work. Unlike most great directors who can’t help but attain a signature style (John Ford, Federico Fellini, even Steven Spielberg), Kubrick belongs to a select group of artists (Robert Wise is another) who possessed the ability to succeed in just about every genre imaginable. His acclaimed oeuvre includes the gritty and stylistic Noir, Killer’s Kiss, the sand and sandals epic, Spartacus, the satirical black comedy, Dr. Strangelove, and of course, the science fiction spectacular, 2001: A Space Odyssey.
By the late 1970s Kubrick had attained such tremendous success as an “A” list director it naturally came as a surprise to fans and critics alike when he turned his talents to what most in the industry considered to be a “B” genre. The Shinning was a horror novel, and therefore would be a horror film. Just or not, the designation bore the stigma of old time Universal monster movies (not that that’s a bad thing, check out my Frankenstein review), or worse, drive-in theater teen fodder. However, this would be the big screen adaptation of a best selling book by one of the most popular authors of all time, Stephen King. And Kubrick treated the adaptation with a respect never before held for the genre, nor often since. With the exceptions of the films made or produced by Rob Reiner and/or Castle Rock (Stand By Me, Misery, The Shawshank Redemption), other King adaptations have done little to exceed the low expectations of the medium.
Unlike other horror films of the era, or even the next several decades, The Shining boasts an exceptional cast (Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall), impressive set design and breathtaking cinematography. Even the special effects were overseen with painstaking attention to detail and quality. Lacking the convenience of computer generated images (CGI), Kubrick shot the famous scene where blood appears to flow from the elevators again and again over the course of a year before it met with his approval. I don’t know what the rejected footage must have looked like, but the time and effort seems to have paid off. The image that appears in the film is extremely effective in conveying an overwhelming sense of abject fear prevalent among the film’s characters.
Every other scene in the film is crafted just as carefully, providing a tangible sense of a world disconnected from the rest of mankind, physically and perhaps even spiritually. The disconnect becomes more profound as the father slips deeper into what may be just his own psychotic break from reality or the true evil lurking within the hotel. Executed with Kubrick’s deft hand The Shining drips with heavy atmosphere that effortlessly envelops the senses and folds you into the creepy world that exists only within the mind of Stephen King - at least, lets hope so. Either way, I wouldn’t recommend seeing this film alone. The Shining may be the most sophisticated example of its genre but it’s still a horror film, and it’s a damn scary one.