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The Shining


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The Shining 

Stanley Kubrick I 1980 I USA

"I'm not gonna hurt you. Wendy, darling, light of my life, I'm not gonna hurt you. You didn't let me finish my sentence. I said, I'm not gonna hurt you. I'm just gonna bash your brains in."

In The Shining, right from the beginning, as we contemplate the car going to the hotel from those stunning aerial shots, deeply inside us we know that something in the film, somehow, sometime is going to go wrong. As we obtain that severe warning, an almost inaudible voice gently whispers to us 'sit tight', a sense of unexpectedness invades us all, and it is that very same feeling that makes our hair stand on end throughout out the entire movie.

The truth is, I can't praise this film enough. The Shining is not just one of Stanley Kubrick's undisputed masterpieces - it's also a true classic in horror cinema. It is a film that, over the course of the years, has managed to scare the living hell out of its audiences with great ease (and, of course, still does). The film is an adaptation of Stephen King's original novel, written in the late 70s, and although the film is not very loyal to the book, it still stands as a magnificent achievement on its own. It strays from its source material; it only takes it basic premise and develops a couple of changes along the way, completely forgetting about other things, and altering the ending, too. While some people probably won't like this, I, who have read the book, didn't find the film to succumb into the realms of crapiness just because it wasn't exactly like the book; one has to bear in mind that the film is an adaptation of the novel, not a word-for-word movie version. Some may find it frustrating because of its seemingly lack of coherence ('what's that guy in a bear suit doing to that old man, and why?' You might ask yourself). But, then again, the beauty of it all is partly due to the ambiguity in which the film is surrounded.

The plot is simple: Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) becomes the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel in up in the secluded mountains of Colorado. Jack, being a family man, takes his wife (Shelley Duvall) and son (Danny Lloyd) to the hotel to keep him company throughout the long, isolated nights. During their stay, strange things occur when Jack's son Danny sees gruesome images powered by a force called 'the shining' and Jack is heavily affected by this. Along with writer's block and the demons of the hotel haunting him, Jack has a complete mental breakdown and the situation takes a sinister turn for the worse.

One has to ask themselves, what is brilliance? Many will think, 'Brilliance is Welles, Tarkovsky, Hitchcock, Truffaut, Kurosawa'. Others, however, will immediately jump and say, 'Kubrick!' For me, Kubrick doesn't just define brilliance with perfect clarity he is it, he is brilliance. And this film doesn't just show you that, it hits your head with a bat (no pun intended) so many times that it makes it impossible to forget.
The problem with horror movies of this day and age is that they're predictable, and not only that. They're unoriginal, monotonous, uninteresting and, above all (this is the greatest problem) not suspenseful whatsoever. Audiences have got used to seeing a killer on the loose, bloody knife in hand, chasing a bunch of horny teenagers with tight tops. They have seen that so many times that the sheer enjoyment of it all is not just slight  - it's completely evaporated. The film, unlike many horror-oriented films nowadays, doesn't only rely on stomach-churning and gory images (which it does contain, anyhow) but on the incredibly tense music based on the works of Béla Bartók and on the excellent cinematography (the Steadicam is superbly used, giving us a sense of ever-following evil), as well. The concept of the haunted house is turned completely inside out, and Kubrick does it all with his usual magic. The terrifying mood and atmosphere of the film is carefully and masterfully woven by him, who clearly knows how to really make a horror movie. The film is cold, impassive and somehow detached from the outside world, and the viewer finds himself just like the characters in the story, who are trapped inside by a snowstorm he feels as though he were in a cage and could not get out. The film confirms Kubrick as one of the most versatile directors in the history of cinema (he's done science fiction, drama, epic, satires, comedies, etc, there's no denying that he was immensely talented).

Jack Nicholson's powerful performance as the mad father and husband is as over the top as it is brilliant. Every gesture of his, every expression, however delicate or apprehensive, every word he utters, simply everything he does is fantastic. From the very first scene in which he appears we know that there's something wrong about him; the diabolical stare, the arched eyebrows (again, this is yet another alteration of the book as Jack flies off the handle a bit too abruptly rather than gradually sinking into psychotic behavior as he did in the book). Shelley Duvall, who plays the worrying wife who tries to help her son, is also a stand out; she shows a kind of trembling fear in many scenes and is able to display weakness and vulnerability in such a convincing way that you cannot help but admire her work.

Undoubtedly, The Shining is full of memorable moments (the elevator scene or the 'Heeeeeere's Johnny' one-liner for instance, are unforgettable and have been ripped-off or homaged many times). Simply put, it's flawlessly brilliant.
Stanley Kubrick's direction is pure excellence, giving the whole film a bitter and atmospheric look, thus creating an unbearable sense of paranoia and terror. Sometimes the film becomes so unnerving because the horror is so close that it gets a bit hard to watch honestly. What makes the film so immortally creepy is the way Kubrick gradually builds up the tension, thus reaching a point in which it gets excruciating. It overwhelms. By the second hour, all hell breaks loose and the finale (oh, what an ending) is pure terror.
There are moments of sheer brilliance and exquisite glory in this film; the horrifying maze chase is a perfect example. Every single shot is masterfully created and there are some genuinely scary scenes which will make you sit on the edge of your seat.
In my opinion, The Shining is a special landmark in horror cinema which will always be regarded as one of the scariest movies in film history.
Since I saw it last year I have rarely been able to have a bath in my bathtub.
Just in case, you know.

What else is there to say that hasn't already been said? The Shining is an unforgettable, chilling, majestic and truly, profoundly scary film crafted by an eccentric genius who wants to show that the impossible can be done. Kubrick lovers surely will find it to be one of the directors weakest but I think it's one of his finest.
It's a sublime, hauntingly intriguing and endlessly watchable film that shows Kubrick at his best. Not only that, it's also the most effective (if not best) horror movie ever made. Likely to stir up more than just one conversation after first viewing. And watch out for the surprise ending.


Reviewed by The Third M?n, 2003