By Marc S. Sanders
Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining has become a legendary film that set the standard for haunted house films. It’s a spooky story with a musical soundtrack never destined to be played at weddings or bar mitzvahs.
The whole movie is unsettling, beginning with a long winding road drive through the Colorado mountains as the title and credits unconventionally roll up the screen, one at a time. Kubrick was never typical. Here he was frighteningly weird.
The film, based of Stephen King’s bestseller, consists of four characters. Three of them are novelist Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and their son Danny. He’s one effed up kid with a mop top haircut. I think I’d be disturbed if I uncovered what Danny grew up to be hereafter.
The fourth character is the main attraction, the isolated Overlook Hotel; left empty during the harsh winter months to take advantage on reviving its morbid history of harsh violence by means of ghosts, bleeding elevators and hacked up innocent looking, pig-tailed, young girls. Don’t ask me to explain the guy with the gold lion mask about to go down on a happy partygoer. No. I also can’t explain what exactly happened in Room 237. Perhaps King’s book covers all of this. Kubrick opts not to and focuses on the naivety of Wendy while Danny and his imaginary friend Tony talk to the consciousness of the hotel only to understand it is gleefully influencing Jack into an obsession of murderous incentive, eventually leading him to charge his ax through some doors.
I once visited the Louvre in Paris. I couldn’t fully enjoy or appreciate it. It was too big and too overwhelming. I didn’t know where to start or where to end. I had a panic attack, but I didn’t know it at the time, and I was eager to leave. Kubrick works on that anxiety during the long exposition of the film. Effectively disturbing tracking shots are provided that shoot deep hallways, vast ballrooms, large furniture pieces, and loud colors of reds, browns, yellows and whites along with emerald, green in the bathroom of room 237. The pastel blues of the young girl’s dresses and pigtail ribbons are also deliberately garish. Colors are normally cheerful for me. Here, they are unwelcome and intrusive and when I say loud, I mean to say the colors scream at you,
You just want to get away with Danny on his Big Wheel that he pedals around the property, softly on the carpet and thunderously loud on the tile and wood.
The character of the setting continues its disturbing details by means of a maze. Kubrick offers a great transition when Wendy and Danny enter the maze while Jack overlooks (pun intended) on a small-scale model. The hotel’s haunts have its prey in sight by means of its possession of Jack. Kubrick clearly shows that with his camera work. There are wide shots both overhead and facing Jack, and narrow, trapped captions of Danny and Wendy lost in the labyrinth.
I won’t say The Shining is a favorite of mine. I think this is only the second time I’ve seen it. I’ll watch horror movies, but they often bother me; leaving me distraught and stressed, unrelaxed. Occasionally, while Kubrick is vague with his imagery, Nicholson is blatantly obvious in his urge to terrify; maybe a little too blatant. He is in direct competition with John Belushi in the facial expression department. He’s disturbing even before the hotel’s influence is available to take hold, and so I didn’t necessarily get a good character arc from him. Same with Duvall or the boy. This family is downright weird all on their own from the moment you meet them until the film’s cold, wintery end arrives. Kubrick gets you curious about what this hotel is capable of. Then he shows you. Then the end literally tires the story out.
The Shining is best when you have an urge for fear and frights. A house of horrors tale where a cat or bird will not suddenly fly into focus for a cheap jump-scare. Rather your vision and hearing will still feel shocked, leaving butterflies in the stomach, and shortness of breath. Repeat viewings will leave you awake at bedtime, and worried and agitated. There’s so much to explore, but do we really want to know what’s in that room, or down that hall or around that corner, or even how that photograph of a July 4 celebration from the 1920s ever came to be?