Let’s go back to a time when every other movie wasn’t a remake, book adaptation, video game-related, or based on a Broadway musical. Let’s bask in the originality of new ideas brought to life onscreen in new ways. Let’s remember how it feels to see something new for the…….wait. It’s based on a book? Oh, never mind.
The Shining may in fact be based on Stephen King’s novel, but it goes in its own direction. I’ll admit, I haven’t read the book, but for the film version you don’t have to be worried about too many or too little details. You don’t have to worry about characters lacking sufficient narrative, and you definitely don’t have to worry about lack of suspense. The latter quality of the film is courtesy of veteran director Stanley Kubrick.
Did you say Stanley Kubrick?!?! Yes I did. The man behind such classic masterpieces as 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange is trying something new. Nevertheless, it feels just as immaculate as the rest of his work, and as a result it is just as good. Sure there are a few niggles with some of the acting, but the way the film builds in a disastrously artistic manner created a formula for horror flicks that is still going strong today. First you have to credit Stephen King’s story. Before The Shining, horror films either had to do with a psycho killer(s) running around killing everyone or zombies/creatures doing the same. The Shining was one of the first horror films where the adversary and the protagonist are the same person. The film focuses on how people go bad, not necessarily the aftermath of such a transformation.
The Shining though is not just any ol’ book-to-screen adaptation. Kubrick’s direction at the helm brings it to another level altogether. His originality, craftiness, and most important, patience with the source material, all makes The Shining one of the best horror films ever made. Therefore, it is a monumental achievement in film making because of both the innovations that the story birthed to the horror genre, but also because it is yet another example of Kubrick’s excellent film making abilities.
Story: An unemployed husband named Jack takes a job as a caretaker at an isolated mountain hotel for the winter. Because travel will be restricted to and from the hotel, he brings his family to spend the time with him. He pictures it as the perfect opportunity to work on his passion; writing. The man’s relationship with his young son is marred by a past mistake, and as a result the child seems to have psychological issues. The child, it turns out, is actually telepathic. Once arriving at the hotel, he begins to see horrifying images. But he’s not the only one seeing things. Can Jack make sense of it all and survive the winter with his sanity intact, or will he buckle under the stress of isolation? Good (24/25)
Acting: Jack Nicholson plays the husband, Jack. At first it seems like he is trying to force himself to be “normal”, but as the story moves on, we begin to learn the character’s past and see that Nicholson really does do a brilliant job with a complex character. Jack completely takes over the film towards the end and he manages to create one of the most iconic performances in the history of horror films. Danny Lloyd plays his son, and is at first a very polarizing character, but as the film goes on he also grows on you, especially his commitment. Shelly Duvall plays the wife, and is actually kind of annoying. The rest of the supporting cast are barely there, but are able to add to the overall tone of the film. Overall I felt the quality of acting in the beginning of the film is suspect, but improves considerably by the end. Okay (19/25)
Direction: Kubrick uses lots of motion shots to his benefit. These slow, often plotting shots do wonders to create a frightening thrill ride for the audience because the movie avoids becoming static. Horror films are perhaps the most notorious for cliche shots and angles. How often have you seen the shot where the focus is on the character’s face, searching the darkness but you never see what they are looking at? How often have you seen a horror film that just degrades to a stationary camera waiting for things to pop out and scare you? Kubrick doesn’t play those games. He lets the emotion develop naturally, either with his fluid camera movements, or with silence. Yes, that’s right, silence. It’s actually quite powerful…I’m looking at you Michael Bay. Also impressive is Kubrick’s attention to detail. Nothing is bland or dull. Its all exciting, as it should be for a thriller. Great (25/25)
Special Effects/ X-Factor: While the movie doesn’t revolve around its special effects, there are a few scenes where the visuals make a huge impact. The visions and hallucinations are all twisted and horrific, but this film doesn’t quite rely on shock as entertainment, it’s a step above that. The cinematography is also quite good. The climax of the movie, which features the characters outdoors, is captured excellently, despite some tricky lighting. Overall, a competent film that doesn’t phone anything in. Good (24/25)
Rating: (92/100) = A ( A Historical Achievement)
- What’s Good: Kubric really shows that he knows what he is doing. He manages to take an already original story and transform it into a far-from typical horror film with purposeful direction, chilling effects, and a memorable performance by Jack Nicholson.
- What’s Bad: Perhaps a more commercial undertaking than usual from Kubrick, some of the acting seems forced at times.
Summary: At the time of its release, perhaps the best horror film since Hitchcock.
For more reviews of Stanley Kubrick movies, see:
Rated: A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Rated: Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
My previous review: Rated: The Tree of Life (2011)
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