Classic Film Kid: The Shining (1980)
Hi everyone, it’s the Classic Film Kid here with another review, and today, we are stepping back into true classic territory as we are looking at Stanley Kubrick’s thriller/horror The Shining, “adapted” from the book of the same name by Stephen King. Taking place in a large hotel during a snowstorm, Jack Torrance receives a job to take care of the hotel as it is closed over the winter months. However, it turns from a somewhat friendly safe haven from the snow to a death trap waiting to happen as Jack and his disturbed son Danny begin seeing strange visions of ghosts and twin girls, and the whole experience drives Jack to murderous insanity.
The Shining is not only recognised as a classic film, it’s also become significant in pop culture, with various moments like the twin girls, “Here’s Johnny”, the maze, and the elevator becoming very popular and parodied in several pieces of media. That was the only problem I had before seeing it – since I research film so much and I’d watched a lot of TV, I thought I knew the film inside out. When I finally sat down excitedly to watch it on a Thursday night, I realised that not only did it earn its reputation of being a classic, but it still kept so many cool surprises under the hood, that when I uncovered them, I was truly shocked.
Now many people class The Shining as a horror film, but it’s not at all: what The Shining does is utilise various supernatural occurrences and package them in a chilling psychological thriller set in a hotel that may seem grand and huge, but when you’ve got a violent insane Jack Nicholson chasing you around with an axe, it can become really claustrophobic.
Now that I’ve mentioned him, we’ll have to talk about him: Jack Nicholson is phenomenal. Other films he has starred in have showed he has a fantastic range and talent, and here he takes the idea of a man going insane psychologically, and adds so many other cards to the table to make this a role no-one will forget. There is the distressed, the demented, the raging, and also the humour – it’s probably the only thing I have seen in a film than I can call hilariously terrifying, and what I mean by that is that it’s so convincingly scary you just laugh at the absurdity of the whole situation. Another standout performance comes from Shelley Duvall, playing the disturbed (although to be honest, I think that’s an understatement considering the situation) and broken wife of Jack. Of course, we’ve all heard the on-set stories of Kubrick’s treatment of Shelley Duvall, and the nasty things he both said and did, but in the end, you’ve just kind of got to look at it at how it turned out, and the moments where she gets to shine are breathtaking to watch.
This leads me to the infamous bat scene. This was by far my favourite scene in the whole film, and I know that’s a clichéd thing to say, due to all the buzz surrounding it, but can you really blame me when it’s this nail-biting? Starting off with the iconic phrase ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ constantly coming out the typewriter, we then get a terrifyingly suspenseful five minutes as Jack completely loses what’s left of his sanity in front of an immensely distressed and confused Wendy, who starts to threaten him with a bat. To be honest, you wouldn’t blame her when her husband promises not to hurt her, just bash her brains in. It’s the way this scene is shot as well, as the camera constantly follows Jack and Wendy – it doesn’t cut away to something else (i.e not to the rocket patterns on the wall implying Kubrick faked Apollo 11), it just stays on the faces of both the principal characters and follows their every move.
Linking to my brief joke about the moon landing conspiracy theory, it leads me to talk about the brilliant aesthetic and production design of this film. The hotel itself is our primary setting, considering we get about two minutes’ worth of scenes anywhere outside, and it looks wonderful. At the start of the film, it looks incredibly inviting but with a few things out of the ordinary to foreshadow the horror to come, then as Jack’s descent as hostile madness begins we start to peel back the layers of the Overlook Hotel, we enter the lion’s den of ghosts and spirits where we never know what’s real.
Right, that leads to me to one of the most unsettling and confusing things ever in the history of film ever – the last shot. No doubt you probably know it all very well, but in case you don’t, the last shot consists of a slow camera pan from the hotel lobby, to the photo gallery at the end of the corridor, where we see a photo of a ball dated 1941 – with Jack Torrance’s happy face beaming at us. Many people have theorised and discussed what this photo means countless times, and we’ll never know for sure, but it ain’t half strange and it just makes you feel uneasy. Most importantly, I feel it’s Kubrick’s way of showing us he does not want us to forget about the film he’s created and the world our characters inhabit – it’s clearly in there for a reason, and perhaps we’ll never know for sure, but no matter what, it’s still a striking image and unbelievably disturbing.
Before I conclude, there is just one flaw that I had with this film, and that had to do with the pacing. Now I understand how it’s deliberately slow, but sometimes it didn’t feel like much of relevance was happening, and since it’s already quite a long film, it needed to be just a touch more eventful in places. Still, what else needs to be said? The Shining is a masterful thriller, and its crossover appeal into pop culture is deserved, with its wonderfully tense story, fantastic disturbing performances, and a great aesthetic that lends perfectly to the scary atmosphere. It may be slightly bloated on occasions, but it still had me thoroughly invested all throughout it, and it’s definitely one of Kubrick’s best works. 9/10
That does it for The Shining. Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy the next review I have planned, which will be a detour into short films. I am going to be looking at a short Spanish film I recently watched titled Le Cabina, and I think it’s a really interesting work that not many people have heard of, so that will coming next. Until then, have a good day, and this is the Classic Film Kid, signing off!