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The Shining

It's here!! My review of The Shining, this one took a very long time, and I'll explain why!

I'm sure it needs very little introduction, but the plot follows a failing writer named Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) who takes up a job as a caretaker for a hotel during its off season, accompanied by his wife, Winnifred 'Wendy' (Shelley Duvall) and their only child, Danny (Danny Lloyd). But supernatural forces assume control of Jack, who initiates a murderous rampage.

This film is chilling, and I don't really know why, and I still can't fully explain why it had such effects on me, which was the main reason as to how delayed this response has been. But it is unsettling from the start with imagery of blood pouring out of elevators and an archaic pair of sinister sisters overlooking Danny make it tense from about 5 minutes into its runtime. I think this is a little unorthodox, usually in supernatural films, a cup will move an inch without anyone touching it, or there'll be a loud knocking sound in the distance *gasps* and that's mainly why I don't like supernatural films, because so often they make the unknown look so harmless, effectively failing to create tension and therefore failing to establish an effective prelude to when the boring action in those films tends to kick in. Yet Kubrick took a totally different approach by just launching straight into explicitly unnerving scenarios. I also like how these are sustained throughout the film, even when the action is hyped up and in full force. That scene with the man in a bear suit, um, getting involved in adult situations with the owner whilst they both gleefully look at Duvall when she finds them was probably the singular most chilling moment in the entire thing for me, even though I swing that way too

The sisters scene. My God, I knew it was coming in one of the corridor scenes, and the haunting score playing at full blast whilst Danny cycled around the place for minutes at a time had me so tense and at unease in anticipation for that inevitable moment that it made me feel quite sick. So in some regards, its legacy has only heightened its effectiveness, because even though the quick cut aways to their blood drenched corpses with their monotonous, grotesque voices urging Danny to play with them forever was disturbing enough on its own, waiting for the actual moment to arrive was probably even worse for me. Time has done it favours, because some films now included in the horror "canon" as it were, haven't survived the test of time i.e. Friday the 13th, that was interestingly released two weeks before this. And that's mainly because it doesn't rely on violence or gore, but on the psychological horror and torment that is relentless throughout. I mean, that beheading scene in Friday is just laughable by today's standards!

Speaking of the score, I adored it. I think soundtracks do heavily contribute to the overall ambience of a film, particularly in the horror genre, and this not only drastically enhanced the events it accompanied on screen, but it also indicated when something dreadful was going to happen. It was operatic (I think that's the right word ) and Gothic without a doubt, it just perfectly matched the film. It's not quite up there with Suspiria though.

In my review for The Thing, I complained a lot about its ambiguity on pretty much every single detail, and that's something I still maintain! Here, I think Kubrick employed this device perfectly. This is a Gothic tale, and the genre is always full of it, its what fuels it and this incorporated and applied with just the correct quantity. For instance, is Jack the victim of cabin fever or the paranormal, was Grady the killer of those girls even though the man Ullman attributed the crime too had a different name and the events took place 50 years after the events of 1921. Why do all of these anachronisms exist at the hotel etc, it leaves enough to be open for interpretation whilst still delivering a powerful ending with enough substance in there to allow us to determine what happens in the vast majority of cases... unlike The Thing

In regards to the acting, I found it largely good! Not Oscar worthy in any individual case, but it still just about matched the professionalism of largely every other element of the film! That being said, Jack's crazy act got a bit tiresome towards the end, and Danny Lloyds expressions got worse as the film progressed, but they did a good job overall, especially considering Kubrick's infamous mistreatment of them. The supporting cast were largely forgettable, but still provided shocks on their own ("It's a good party, "a n***er cook is coming") are the two most striking instances that spring to mind.

Shelley Duvall. I don't quite know how to describe her performance in this, but the word inconsistent springs to mind. At times, she's just fine in being a timid little housewife, and she occasionally does quite well at times when she's called to be distressed. But I noticed, for example, during the scene in which she discovers Jack's manuscript and consequently has an explosive argument with him over it, she's perfect in portraying fear, insecurity, and hopelessness through her voice, but this isn't matched by her physical mannerisms. I mean, she swings that bat with no conviction whatsoever, and I know that's probably because she's faced by her husband, but Wendy Torrance was initially created as an headstrong woman who wasn't afraid to stand up for herself, and I'll get onto that eventually. But her facial expressions during this segment was peculiar too, she looked constipated, and couldn't quite pull it off. This does look critical, but I do give her some sympathy, her treatment on the set is nothing short of legendary at this stage, and good on her for not walking off the set, and I also think her Razzie nomination was uncalled for too. I wouldn't give her an Oscar nom though, or a Saturn one... or a MTV movie award one either!

It's no surprise to anyone at this point that Stephen King hates this film as an adaptation of his book, and I do sympathise with him here. Jack and Wendy are paper thin characters, and are the antithesis to their novelised counterparts. Nicholson looks like a man on the brink from the get go, whereas his counterpart was an ordinary, average man who struggles with alcoholism and is pushed into insanity by the overlook on a much slower and gradual scale. Wendy, as I've already sort of mentioned, was an independent, intelligent and an all American woman who is torn between staying with the fluctuating Jack to keep her family together, or to escape an increasingly toxic relationship, which is reflected by her actions throughout the duration of the book. Notably, she takes very little crap in the book, and even stabs Jack in the back. Here, she's reduced to an archetype, a screaming, hysterical woman who never knows where to put herself and probably isn't capable of holding a job as a cashier for more than 3 weeks due to her idiocy.
Yes, this looks pedantic, but even if the comparisons to the novel weren't involved in this, it doesn't remove the fact that the two characters who need to be complex and compelling, simply aren't.

If you weren't gay before this film, chances are you will be by the end, an aged vagina is something you never want to see!
But in all seriousness, this film is haunting, and what makes it stand out (for me anyway) is that it's consistently chilling for over 2 hours, something that very, very few film makers could ever hope to replicate to the standard that Kubrick did here.
With this being said, the characterisation suffers terribly, but it is just about passable, for the plot, the tension, the music, cinematography, mise-en-scene and even the acting compensate enough to draw you in.
There are a few overly dramatic scenes, and a couple more that were slightly boring. Such scenes were very few and far between here, though.
However, I wouldn't call this the scariest film ever, or the best horror film ever made either. It simply isn't although it has a damn good attempt!