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The Shining

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Shining

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Rated: R
RunTime: 146 Minutes
Release Date: May 1980
Genres: Drama, Horror, Mystery

*Also starring: Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson, Philip Stone, Joseph Turkel, Anne Jackson

Review by Jerry Saravia
No Rating Supplied

There are horror films that come with expectations, namely to spook and scare us with the unknown. And then there is Stanley Kubrick's misguided though definitely spooky "The Shining," a horror film that is unaware of what it wants to say or how to say it. I admire Kubrick greatly, he is one of the finest directors in the history of cinema, but this film is definitely on a lower standard than some of his other works.

The problem is mainly Jack Nicholson, playing the wild-eyed, seemingly mischievous Jack Torrance. He has been hired as the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, stationed in a highly remote, isolated area of Colorado. There is definitely something wrong with Jack from the start, he rolls his eyes and hardly flinches when hearing a past story of a graphic murder that took place at the hotel. His wife, Wendy, (a frail-looking Shelley Duvall) and their son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), who talks to his finger referred to as "Tony," come to stay with Jack at the Overlook for several months so of course, something will go wrong. There are several hints of this at the beginning of the film, most telling example is when Jack is driving the family to the hotel and mentions a cannibalism that occurred in the area. Wendy looks at him in disbelief, and Danny, seated behind them, says "it's okay Mom. I saw it on television." Jack replies, "You see. He saw it on the television."

"The Shining" is essentially about those long, wintry months spent at the Overlook, and the isolation is clearly felt from frame to frame. Most the months are broken up by titles that indicate the days of the week. Jack's madness begins to settle in, as he screams at Wendy for intruding while he is at work on a novel. Then he begins to see ghosts, such as a beautiful naked woman in a tub in one of the rooms of the hotel, and a bartender from the 1920's whom Jack tells about his fears and insecurities with his family, casually mentioning his wife as the "sperm bank upstairs." Then something grows wild within him, an animal is let loose and before you know it, the ax comes out and he is ready to kill his family.

"The Shining" could be a conventional horror film but there are enough eerie moments to make it a cut above the rest. But from Kubrick, I expected so much more than the conventional route it takes. There are the expected bloodlettings, blood that runs like a geyser from an elevator, a decomposing, laughing crone with sagging breasts, several ghosts, and so on. All of this is what one would expect from a Hammer horror flick but under this master's hands, it all comes off as typical shock tactics rather than real scares.

The other problem is the over-the-top performances that undermine credibility and cause us to lose sympathy with the characters. Jack is typical Jack, wild and insolent, seeming like an insane madman from the very start rather than a character study of a man slowly losing his sanity. Shelley Duvall tries her best I suppose but her screams and gaping looks are grating and cumbersome - she does better in her quiet scenes, such as the first scene between her and Danny discussing the trip to the Overlook. Danny Lloyd comes under the rule of why kids should not be cast in horror films - he simply stares into oblivion during his "shinings" and makes rather offputting gestures with his finger, mimicking the voice of "Tony." I know that this is all in the Stephen King book, but that is why adaptations exist - to change material that is often best left to the imagination rather than making it literal.

There are several virtues to "The Shining." The film has an ominous, otherworldly quality that is well-suited for such a disturbing horror tale. There are the particularly ominous opening helicopter shots of the roadways leading to the Overlook. The colors of the hotel are mostly gold and pink, thereby evoking the 1920's atmosphere of the ballroom. There are the point-of-view shots of Danny riding in his bike through the corridors and hallways, all accomplished with a Steadicam (one of the first films to use such a camera). There is one truly horrifying scene where Danny sees twin girl ghosts who ask him to come and play, immediately realizing they were the girls who were killed in the hotel by the former caretaker. There is a brilliantly edited and shot chase through the hedge maze outside the hotel where Jack torments poor Danny. In terms of production design, art direction, cinematography and sheer atmosphere, "The Shining" is triumphant in all departments.

But it is a horror film without the horror - more like a mystery with lots of hidden meanings in every shot (the haunting final scene justifiably asks more questions than answers). Its histrionic performances and overdone chilling musical score negates the horror and turns it into a freak show with occasional moments of terror. It's passable Stephen King horror but from Kubrick, one expects something much more challenging and thought-provoking.

Copyright 1997 Jerry Saravia

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