I’ll admit: I’m not the biggest fan of the horror genre. But The Shining does what most horror movies don’t even dream of: it’s truly a work of art. Directed by the legendary Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange), based on a book by horror master Stephen King, and starring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall, it’s a horror movie that escapes the pitfalls of many other horror movies, such as cheap scare tactics and shallow characters. The result is a beautiful and well-written movie that’s frightening without being over-the-top.
The movie opens with Jack Torrance interviewing for (and getting) a job looking after a hotel as it closes for the snowy winter. It will be just Jack, his wife Wendy, and their son Danny alone in the hotel for five months of isolation. Supernatural forces are at work in the hotel, and Jack begins a gradual descent into madness. There’s a long period of Jack wavering between love and aggression, where he knows he’s going crazy but is powerless to stop it, but the inevitable fall and explosive outcome are telegraphed from the beginning. What’s not clear is the ending. Not that it’s shocking, it’s just not obvious.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
The guidance from visionary writer and director Stanley Kubrick is what elevates this film to greatness. Each shot is framed perfectly and there are a number of very creative, interesting shots that you don’t see in most movies. The dialogue, while a bit stylized, is engaging and insightful. The actors’ performances are widely regarded as the best in their careers. Kubrick even went as far as making actors shoot physically-intensive scenes 30+ times so they’d be genuinely worn and exhausted. Stephen King criticized the movie as one made by someone who didn’t understand horror films, but that may be what makes it great.
The movie really captures lead character Jack’s gradual descent into madness, and you’re right there with him as it’s happening. You see many of his hallucinations and hear many of the voices that torment him. You also see his wife’s fear as she too sees what’s happening to her husband. There’s a sense of dread that builds and builds throughout the movie, from the opening scene right up until the finale. The movie is great at making you feel the danger as it gets closer and closer, and by the end of the movie, the terror is unavoidable.
The Shining is one of the best horror movies of all time, but it’s also just a great movie. From the writing to the acting to the cinematography, there’s much to appreciate in this gem. There were a few disturbing scenes that may turn off the squeamish, but even that was not overdone. Horror movie connoisseurs may echo King’s sentiment that this is not a traditional horror film; but its importance within the genre is undeniable. If you like suspense, this is an absolutely essential movie that still stands out today.
Director: Stanley Kubrick