The Shining (1980)
Arguably the most aesthetic, artistic & accomplished piece of horror filmmaking, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is another masterwork of precision craftsmanship that presents its gifted filmmaker at the top of his game as he smoothly blends various elements of supernatural & psychological horror into one methodically structured & meticulously layered story whose underlying themes & narrative complexity has spawned numerous interpretations over the years and remains a subject of discussion amongst film buffs even today. A masterpiece of its genre & a staple of pop culture, The Shining is widely regarded by viewers & critics alike as one of the greatest horror films in existence and while it may not be scary in a conventional sense, it’s certainly the creepiest of them all.
The Shining tells the story of Jack Torrance, a former schoolteacher who takes the caretaker job at the Overlook Hotel which tends to stay closed during the winter season. Arriving at the isolated location with his family on the closing day, Jack intends to use the solitude of the hotel to pursue his passion for writing but once the family settles into the confined place, his condition worsens as he begins to act strangely, suffers from writer’s block & becomes prone to violent outbursts. Jack’s son Danny possesses psychic abilities that enables him to see events from the past & future and is also aware of the hotel’s violent history as well as the supernatural presence that resides there. Trapped in the hotel by a snowstorm, the fate of Torrance family hinges on Jack who is rapidly losing his mind.
Co-written, produced & directed by Stanley Kubrick, The Shining marks his first attempt at horror filmmaking and yet he exhibits a far better understanding of this genre than most established directors of horror cinema. From the opening moments, the film is able to establish an ominous mood thanks to the eerie score that accompanies its title sequence as well as the aerial photography that finds its camera hovering over those high mountains, lush landscapes & narrow roads leading to the Overlook Hotel, thus already foreshadowing the remoteness that awaits the Torrance family. And over the course of its runtime, this tense vibe, uneasy feel & dreary ambience is expertly sustained with the help of some truly groundbreaking camerawork, unnerving music, immaculate set design & manic performances from its cast.
The technical aspects in almost every Kubrick film is carried out with precision care and The Shining is no exception. Production design team deserves kudos for the meticulously detailed set pieces they put on the screen which really helps in giving the Overlook Hotel its very own identity. Throughout the story, the whole place feels very much alive and always appears to be playing its own tricks on the three people residing there. Cinematography makes very inventive use of its camera & follows our characters like a silent observer at all times while the fluid movements, sharp focus, steady zooms, perfect lighting & wisely chosen colour tones greatly amplify the whole look & feel of the picture. But the real highlight is the Steadicam operation as Kubrick pushes this new technique to its extreme to achieve a smoothness & stability that hasn’t been duplicated ever since.
The flexibility & smooth flow provided by Steadicam didn’t just allow Kubrick to stage some of modern cinema’s most iconic shots but also brings the viewers into the story by placing them just behind the characters as the plot unfolds. One of the most memorable sequences in the film is when we follow Danny while he pedals through one corridor after another on his tricycle and it’s not just the camerawork that’s impressive in that scene but sound as well, keeping a sharp eye on the surroundings and aware of where its presence is required. Editing is a strong highlight too as almost every scene ends up playing a relevant role in the story and every bit of its 144 minutes of runtime is properly utilised. Last but not the least is the background score, consisting of tracks that are completely in sync with each & every moment and elevates the whole experience to an entirely different level by encapsulating the story with a highly unsettling mood.
Coming to the acting department, the cast comprises of Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd & Scatman Crothers, with all of them delivering what was asked from them by Kubrick. With Nicholson in the role, Jack Torrance already looks like someone who’s just waiting for a push to descend into total madness which doesn’t come off as a surprise when it eventually happens. The stressful experience Duvall underwent during filming in addition to how she was treated by Kubrick throughout the production is well-documented but the effect of it all can be seen in her rendition of a broken Wendy, as the entire ordeal only helped her performance. Lloyd is in as the psychic kid Danny and just like every kid in almost every horror film, he’s annoying to an extent, especially when he goes into a trance & begins to shout nothing but “redrum”. All three actors are over-the-top at times but this added exaggeration somehow works in its favour.
On an overall scale, The Shining is a thought-provoking meditation on madness, isolation & paranoia that defies everything that was usually a norm in the genre of horror back then, only to come up with a new definition which now forms the basis of modern chillers. Although the narrative seems to incline more towards the psychological side of horror, it never really leaves the supernatural part out of the picture for both of these elements are intertwined together really well. The film’s biggest strength is how it combines all the aspects to create a foreboding atmosphere of unrelenting terror, and succeeds in making each room & corridor of the Overlook Hotel as vital a part of its story as the characters inhabiting it. A shining example of claustrophobic horror and a classic amalgamation of superb direction, deft writing, innovative camerawork, skilful editing, menacing score & devoted performances, The Shining remains one of the greatest achievements of its genre that’s only getting better with time and is definitely amongst Stanley Kubrick’s finest works. Highly recommended. Multiple viewings advised.