A masterpiece of baroque horror cinema that continues to haunt through tone, technique and characterisation.
Dir. Stanley Kubrick
1980 | UK/USA | Drama/Horror | 146 mins | 1.85:1 | English
M18 (passed clean) for violence, disturbing images, and nudity
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers
Plot: A family heads to an isolated hotel for the winter where an evil and spiritual presence influences the father into violence, while his psychic son sees horrific forebodings from the past and of the future.
Source: Warner Bros (Park Circus)
Subject Matter: Slightly Disturbing
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
(Reviewed in theatres – first published on 19 Jun 2014)
In the last three decades of his life, the late great director Stanley Kubrick made only five films – A Clockwork Orange (1971), Barry Lyndon (1975), The Shining (1980), Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999).
His slow method of working, and the scrupulous care with which he chose his subjects have resulted in some of the most daring, provocative, and technically brilliant works ever committed to the big screen.
His untimely death a short while after the release of Eyes Wide Shut left such a huge vacuum that it seemed like cinema was split into two timelines – before and after Kubrick’s death.
In almost every genre, Kubrick’s influence was felt. Here in The Shining, the master director changed the face of horror filmmaking and elevated the genre into something akin to an art form.
The 1970s saw the renaissance of horror pictures such as William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973) and John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978).
Not surprising for a Kubrick picture, The Shining brought a different approach to scaring viewers; gone were the ‘boo!’ moments and grotesque images that were, and still are, hallmarks of the genre, and in came psychological chills and the atmosphere of dread.
Together with Diane Johnson, Kubrick based the film loosely on the novel of the same name by Stephen King whom reportedly disliked the film because it was not faithful to the source. The film had its detractors at the time of release, but as with most Kubrick works, it got better with age.
The Shining stars Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance, and Shelley Duvall and Danny Lloyd as his wife and son respectively. Jack secures a temporary job as an off-season caretaker for the Overlook Hotel and brings his family on a long trip up to the elegant and isolated building for the winter.
With The Shining, Kubrick further showed why he was regarded as the master of the tracking shot. To emphasize the vastness of the hotel and create an impending sense of doom that await these characters, Kubrick cleverly tailed Lloyd’s character with a steadicam shot as he pedals a miniature car through its labyrinth of mazy corridors, and over an alternating series of carpeted and parquet flooring that result in muted and echoed sounds respectively.
“Hello, Danny. Come and play with us. Come and play with us, Danny. Forever… and ever… and ever.”
Unlike a ‘haunted house-themed’ movie, Kubrick shot all of the scenes in the Overlook with clear lighting. Moreover, everything in the hotel looks prim and proper, furniture are symmetrically-placed, and the colors used are bright and cheery.
Like David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986), this normalcy brings an eerie calm to the proceedings, creating an almost dream-like setting where evil lurks and operates within.
The use of music is superb. Wendy Carlos’ assortment of weird rhythms and haunting high notes mirror the characters’ descent into madness, with a sound design that has inspired numerous films, most recently Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin (2013). The use of dissonant classical music by Bartok and Penderecki to create tension and dread is also unparalleled.
Kubrick’s horror masterpiece continues to haunt, and while it may at times feel soulless, it is the essence that comes out of its baroque quality that will stick indefinitely in our psyche. The film is timeless and feels like it had been made outside of time in such a unique style that has no equal.