REVIEW: The Shining [1980]

Score: 10/10 | ★ ★ ★ ★

Rating: R | Runtime: 146 minutes | Release Date: June 13th, 1980 (USA)
Studio: Warner Bros.
Director(s): Stanley Kubrick
Writer(s): Stanley Kubrick & Diane Johnson / Stephen King (novel)

“A momentary loss of muscular coordination”

How can the pairing of Jack Nicholson and Stanley Kubrick, after a decade of their best work in the movie industry, fail? With The Shining we get one of the best thrillers to ever grace the silver screen. There is no need for special effects or gross-out gore like the so-called horror films currently being churned out. Instead we get an amazing lead performance from Nicholson that shows a descent into the hell of insanity and the visual genius that was Kubrick behind the camera.

The best literary adaptations are those that take the source material and make something unique out of it. Film is a totally separate medium and most novels can’t be transferred word for word—books just aren’t meant to be especially cinematic. With The Shining, we are given something that is no longer Stephen King’s story. Sure the crux of the tale remains intact, but a singular mind like Kubrick allows himself to take the basics and craft them into a piece of art that lends itself to the medium being used to express it. Rather than bore us with people talking to explain what is described to us in a book—like The Da Vinci Code amongst others—we are able to join this family for their winter taking care of the Overlook Hotel. The visuals speak for themselves and it is the inner turmoil and manifestation of cabin fever that really takes over the story to become a force in and of itself.

There are so many frames of imagery that will stick in your mind for the rest of your life. Between the twin sisters and the sharp cuts to them butchered on the floor to the blood spilling out from an elevator to the old woman in room 237—they bring chills just reminiscing. Not to mention the crazy, what the hell just happened moments like that of the bear and butler alone in their room. Whatever evil residing inside the hotel has a keen ability to unsettle and terrorize those that threaten its motives and enjoyment.

There could also be no one better to shoot the film then Kubrick and his knack for cinematography and composition. Along with the gorgeous angles and points of view comes an amazing score and sound effects track. Being low to the ground as we follow young Danny Torrance on his big wheel not only puts us into the action, but the loud sounds of the wheels turning on the hardwood floor and being momentarily muffled by the area rugs along the way add a sense of foreboding and anxiousness that remains prevalent throughout.

Besides the technical craft that went in to the film, we also have some stellar acting performances. What can be said about Nicholson’s portrayal of Jack Torrance? He always holds that touch of temper hiding behind his too gracious smile at the beginning and we start to realize what he may be capable of after hearing his wife’s tale about why he stopped drinking. The real fun begins when the voices and visions projected onto him by the hotel finally seep into his head. His facial expressions, tone of voice, and overall demeanor bring laughs to the audience, but they are just as much for comic reasons as they are for the viewers’ unease, smirking out of fear for what this dangerous man might do. The role could have overshadowed everything else, but its success in this film lies in the fact that all fronts work cohesively.

Even the oft-derided Shelley Duvall proves a perfect match here. Her faces of fear are almost too real and her acting style lends itself well to the naïve wife dutifully staying by the side of her husband. We are also treated by two wonderful turns from veteran Scatman Crothers and newbie Danny Lloyd. These two experience the titular “shining” and are able to see what force lies inside the hotel. Almost used as a defensive mechanism to try and exorcise the evil, these two show the good and the bad of their gift.

Lloyd is great as the young son experiencing the horrors and visions of past murder; you almost fear for his mental wellbeing. His parents must be credited for allowing their son to partake in such grueling and psychologically detrimental moments. Whether he changes his voice to become Tony or he convulses from what he sees in his head, I have to believe Kubrick shot his scenes in a way to not let him know the full extent of what was happening in the script. Either way, Lloyd has done only one more bit of acting in his life and seems to have called it quits. He still definitely made a lasting impression on the craft.

As a final note to the perfection of this movie: it is fun to see how many moments have been used later on in new films. If you are going to steal, definitely steal from the best. A couple I noticed occur during the credit sequence and shortly thereafter. While the titles are fading in we are treated with the Torrance’s car riding the mountainous roads to their eventual destination. Although Michael Haneke has put screaming music over his start in Funny Games, the resemblance is uncanny. The other moment that stuck out like a sore thumb was the psychiatric sequence with little Danny. Even with the tone of the scene and the questioning going on about his imaginary friend, it is not until Danny utters in a babyish voice that he doesn’t want to talk about it anymore do I recall a similar moment in Donnie Darko pertaining to the rabbit Frank. There really is so much to love about The Shining that I’d appropriate as much as I could as well.

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