The Shining ****

Jack Nicholson in "The Shining"

Jack Nicholson in “The Shining”

“The Shining” is one of the truly terrifying, and disturbing horror films that I have seen.  It came out at a time when horror had very high production standards as well as truly suspenseful and scary stories.  Unfortunately it came out at a time when horror movies were about to become less thought provoking, and more aimed at the mass audiences who simply wanted to see gore and nudity.  I’m talking about the slew of “Friday the 13th”, “Nightmare on Elm Street”, ” and “Halloween” movies that would become the poster films of the 80s. 

Jack Nicholson plays Jack Torrence.  He has just accepted the job as a caretaker for a hotel that shuts down in the winter.  He moves his family up to the isolated and frozen mountain where the hotel stands.  When the end up on their own, Jack slowly begins to lose his mind.  Or so it would seem. 

The truly horrifying aspect of this film is that the director, Stanley Kubrick, never really gives us a true explanation of what is happening.  Is Jack being possessed by spirits?  Is he losing his mind due to the isolation of the location?  Is this all taking place in his mind?  The beauty of this film is that it has elements of all three, and asks us to to come up with our own conclusion.

Even the now famous ending where Jack finally snaps, and tries to murder his family with an axe, could be argued that it only happened in Jack’s mind.  Or it could be argued that it is happening in wife Wendy’s mind. 

There son Danny seems to possess a psychic ability called the shining.  This allows him to call for help by linking his mind to people who are a great distance away.  Kubrick also seems to be suggesting that this power could be stirring the spirits that haunt the hotel, causing the horrible chain of events. We will never know. 

I can watch this movie from beginning to end, and still never truly explain what happened.  What I can tell you is that it never loses my attention.  The story is always compelling.  The performances all effectively add to the general creepiness and atmosphere of the film.  I love the look of the film as well. The interior design of the hotel is bland yet effective.  The exterior shots mostly take place at night, with a deep blanket of snow covering everything.  I especially liked the frozen hedge maze that contains the final chase in the film. 

“The Shining” is a true classic of the horror genre.  It comes from a forgotten time when audiences had attention spans that were not destroyed by fast cutting, torture porn films like “Saw” and “Hostel”.  It takes its time to develop the dread and horror in the story.  It never goes too over the top, and stays within the personalities of the characters.


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