Kubrick Does King (Not Very Well): A The Shining Review

Note: Before we get into this I just want to point out that I have never read the book by Stephen 
King, so I have nothing to compare this film to. I do not plan on reading the book either.

Film Score: ⭐⭐  

Released by Warner Brothers

Release Date: June 13th, 1980

Starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, and Scatman Crothers

Written by Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson

Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Rated R (Language, violence, menace, some gore, and nudity)

Jack Torrance: [typed] All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

This may come as a surprise to some, but I am not a big fan of The Shining. I know, right? How can I be a horror fan and not bow down to the greatness of The Shining? It just was never that great of a film to me. I understand that almost everyone loves this film and that I have joined Stephen King as one of the very few who dislike this film, but I think that Stanley Kubrick wanted to make something that he wasn’t that well versed on. He has made a horror film that is mostly devoid of horror. He has made a horror film for people who don’t like horror films.

Just in case you didn’t know what The Shining is about, I’ll give you a quick rundown: Jack Nicholson stars as Jack Torrance, a man who has quit his job as a teacher to become an author. He takes a job as the off season caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, an isolated hotel in the middle of nowhere. His job is to take care of the hotel during the winter months, all while working on his book.  He takes his family, consisting of his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and their son Danny (Danny Lloyd).

Jack is warned that a previous caretaker went insane and killed his family, something that Jack is not worried about. Once at the hotel, Jack begins to see things and slowly goes crazy. Meanwhile, Danny starts to have visions of his own. He finds out from the hotel’s head chef (Scatman Crothers) that Danny has, what the chef calls, the shining, a telepathic link between people who also have the same ability. Once shit hits the fan, Danny tries to use his shining to get help. Jack eventually goes completely made and tries to kill his family.

Kubrick establishes everything early on so we can watch a person’s decent into madness, the decent really isn’t there. One day Jack is ok and the next he’s not. It seems that, at most, there are three levels to Jack. We get the regular, everyday Jack. This is the Jack who went to the interview, called his wife, and drove to the hotel. The last time we really see this Jack is when he wakes up and his wife tells him that she is going to make him breakfast. After this scene we get no more regular Jack.

The next Jack is the crazy, but not murderous Jack. This is the Jack who gets stressed out over having writer’s block (it is a bitch) and also goes to room 237 to fond the dead woman in the bathtub. This Jack is supposed to be the one that we see the most, the one that goes through most of the trials to insanity. The problem lies in the fact that this Jack doesn’t seem that much different from crazy and murderous Jack. He starts to see things, but they appear normal to Jack. Yes, I understand that this is what makes Jack go crazy, but it seems that he is just seeing things rather than having a mental breakdown. We will talk more about this later.

The third and final Jack that we see is the murderous Jack. This Jack is the one who chases after his family with an axe. This Jack is the one that is the most famous, telling his wife that he doesn’t want to hurt her, he just wants to bash her brains in. We spend a lot of time with this Jack, but we don’t get to know him very well. He is painted in very broad strokes.

I don’t think that Kubrick liked horror films. This film, while it is a horror film, feels more like a drama than a horror film. There are not too many scares and the overall creepiness that Kubrick was seemingly trying to go for is almost absent. You can see where the scares or mood was supposed to go, but Kubrick seems more interested with how beautiful things look.

This is one of the problems that I had with the film. Kubrick likes things to look exactly like he had pictured them so he does things over and over and over again. He doesn’t set any type of mood that is associated with a horror film and expects the audience to just go along with it. This is a man who shows a total disrespect to the genre. Sure he has blood and gore, but what is the point if the atmosphere is at odds with the imagery. We expect to see a horror film and what we get is a family drama sprinkled with bits of horror-like elements.

Another thing I had a problem with was the casting. Shelley Duvall is great in the role, showing compassion for her family as well as someone who is scared out of her mind at the fact that her husband wants to kill her and their son. I know that Kubrick tortured Duvall and that is what made much of the performance possible, but it paid off because she is one of the best things about the film.

Danny Lloyd, who plays Danny, is really good as well. Putting children into horror films is a gamble. They are sometimes too young to show the right emotion and other times they are just annoying. Lloyd shows us that he fully capable of handling the huge task of trying to show us something that we will not be able to see.

The casting of Jack Nicholson was probably the biggest problem involving casting. Don’t get me wrong, Nicholson is a fine actor. The man has won three Oscars and has played some of the most memorable characters in the history of cinema, but I feel that he was the wrong choice here. We know that Nicholson can play crazy. Hell, the man stared in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and won an Oscar for it. We know from the first scene in the film that Nicholson is going to raise his eyebrows and yell and twitch. There is no surprise here. We know what is going to happen based on the casting alone. Had they cast someone who is not known for going crazy on screen then the film might have benefitted more.

Another thing that I don’t really like is the pacing. I know that Kubrick likes to take his time and let his audience get to know that characters and the setting, but this film runs very long and feels the same. I do love the long takes of Danny riding around the hotel. It is a clever way of letting the audience take in the entire hotel, but these scenes go on forever. In fact, almost every scene goes on past the point in which the scene should logically end. Maybe the whole point was to keep the audience on edge, but it just makes the editing seem off, thus throwing the whole film off.

Kubrick could have cut down some of the film to ratchet up the suspense, but that would have meant that there was suspense in the first place. Never have I seen a horror film have less suspense than The Shining. We know how the film is going to end and who is going to be killed even before the film knows it. By the time The Shining came out we already had the first Friday the 13th released. I am not saying that Friday the 13th is a better film than The Shining. Actually I am, but the point that I am trying to make is that Friday the 13th knows how to be a better horror film than The Shining does. It is very apparent that Kubrick does not like the horror genre. The Shining was the only horror film that he made, but I question why he made it if he was going to minimize the horror element so much. 

There are horror elements present (we would remember it as a horror film if they weren’t), but Kubrick focuses on non-horror elements for the majority of the film’s two and a half hour runtime. Even the last portion of the film, where Jack snaps and tries to murder his family, is play more like a drama than a horror film. Did Kubrick just hate horror so much that he made the most non-horror horror film ever made?

I just do not like The Shining. Plain and simple. I do not think that it is a poorly made film. I think that Kubrick was one of the greatest directors to ever have made a film, but this is not one of his better films. The film is trying to be something that it is not while posing as something that it is not. The Shining is not really a horror film, but it is a horror film. I know that all of this may be confusing, but so is The Shining.

Post a Comment