Trying to rebuild his life, struggling author Jack Torrance (Nicholson) accepts a position maintaining the isolated Overlook Hotel during the winter season while it’s closed. Bringing his wife Wendy (Duvall) and young son Danny (Lloyd) – who’s sensitive to supernatural forces – Jack learns that the previous caretaker went crazy and murdered his family. Though hoping to use the solitude to work on his writing, Jack’s sanity unravels…
A masterwork from a master filmmaker, The Shining is widely (and rightly) held as one of the greatest horror movies ever made. Much more than just a ‘horror movie’, celebrated auteur Stanley Kubrick warped Stephen King’s novel into something which oozes ambiguity (the hotel was haunted in the book, here it’s less clear) – which is why it remains so fascinating to this day. Still the subject of obsessive scrutiny (see recent documentary Room 237), many aspects of the film are open to interpretation. Not least that impossibly chilling final shot.
While impatient newcomers will likely find the measured pacing a tad drawn-out (and there is an argument to made here), The Shining is a deeply intoxicating experience. Right from the eerie opening where we wind along a mountain road via helicopter point-of-view, there’s a mounting sense of elusive unease. Arriving at the Overlook hotel, a feeling of deep-rooted evil runs through every frame in mesmerising fashion. Hell, even the dizzyingly-patterned carpets are somewhat hypnotic.
Of course, general audiences are familiar with the more iconic scenes (“Heeere’s Johnny!”; the spooky twins; Red Rum), and it speaks volumes that they remain affecting despite years of parody. Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall and child actor Danny Lloyd are all excellent (as well as Scatman Crothers in a handful of key scenes), but the film is ultimately Kubrick’s. Feeding Nicholson cheese sandwiches (which Jack hated) to create a sense of repulsion and apparently forcing Duvall to do 127 takes of a single scene, the master craftsman’s obsessive approach and technical mastery results in some spellbinding filmmaking (see those long tracking shots), and an unforgettable experience.
Much more than just a classic horror movie, The Shining is a masterwork from a master filmmaker. Oozing eerie ambiguity, it remains fascinating, compelling viewing to this day.