Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” has become a legendary film that set the standard for haunted house films. It’s a house of horrors tale 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 roll up the screen, one at a time. Kubrick was never conventional. Here he was frighteningly weird.
The film, based of Stephen King’s bestseller, consists of four characters. Three of them are Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and their son Danny (one effed up kid with a mop top haircut who I’m worried to discover what he grew up to be in real life).
The fourth character is the main attraction and that is the isolated Overlook Hotel, left empty during the harsh winter months to take advantage on resurfacing its morbid history of harsh violence by means of ghosts, bleeding elevators and hacked up innocent looking young girls. Don’t ask me to explain the guy with the gold lion mask about to go down on a happy partygoer, or what happens in Room 237. Perhaps King’s book explains 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 a obsession of murderous incentive, eventually leading to an 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 with tracking shots 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 disturbing. Colors are normally cheerful for me. Here, they are 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. A great transition occurs when Wendy and Danny enter the maze while Jack overlooks (pun intended) a small scale model of the maze. The hotel’s haunts have its prey in sight by means of its possession of Jack. Kubrick clearly shows that with his camera work with wide shots both overhead and facing Jack, and narrow trapped shots 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 bother me sometimes; leaving me distraught and stressed, unrelaxed. While Kubrick is vague at times 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, nor from Duvall and nor from the boy. They are disturbing 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 and then he shows you and then the end tires (literally) its story out.
“The Shining” is best for an urge for fear and frights. A haunted house tale where a cat or bird will not suddenly fly into focus. Rather your vision and hearing will still feel shock, leaving butterflies in the stomach, and shortness of breath. Repeat viewings will leave you scared 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 wall hanging photograph came to be?