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Reviews

Retro Review: The Shining

October 22, 2020

The BBC have spoiled us all by making The Shining available on iPlayer (until 16th November) and to celebrate here is a retro review of this classic of horror cinema. WARNING – THERE ARE SOME SPOILERS AHEAD

What’s Going On?

Danny and the Grady twins
Danny and the Grady twins (Credit: Warner Bros)

Aspiring writer Jack Torrence is given the job of winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, a grand and isolated property, in which he, his wife and young son will be completely cut off. It is also revealed that the son, Danny, has The Shining – a supernatural gift that can warn Danny of danger, glimpse the future and see what has happened in the past – allowing Danny to see the various horrific things that have previously happened in The Overlook Hotel. Not long into their stay things begin to get strange and forces seem intent on driving Jack to repeat the horrific things in the hotel’s past.

Behind The Scenes

Nicholson and Kubrick on set
Nicholson and Kubrick on set (independent.co.uk)

The film was based on Stephen King’s 1977 horror bestseller of the same name, this only being King’s third book his legendary status had not yet been cemented. Not true of the director Stanley Kubrick at the time seen as one of the best directors in the world and whose reputation has only increased since. Kubrick is famous, or infamous, for overthinking his films – by which I mean years of research, hundreds of takes, layer upon layer of meaning and attention to detail like no other director. The Shining is a classic example of this and it has been endlessly examined and re-examined by critics and fans.

In Front Of The Camera

Jack Nicholson in The Shining (Credit: Warner Bros)

The Shining has a small cast and is essentially about three characters: married couple Jack and Wendy, and their young son, Danny. Jack is played by Jack Nicholson, Wendy by Shelley Duvall and Danny by Danny Lloyd, who has done little acting before or since. All three give amazing performances. Nicholson gives perhaps a career-best and bear in mind this is a career in which he has won two Oscars (neither for The Shining), his descent into madness and violence is utterly believable and compelling. Duvall arguably has the hardest job – she is an ordinary woman in an extraordinary situation with no supernatural powers or evil forces preying on her to explain her actions. Once things start ramping up she is terrified essentially for the rest of the film – but she never stops trying to defend her son, managing to convey her horror at the events going around her and how her need to protect Danny overrides everything. Lloyd is practically perfect as Danny and his portrayal of the “supernatural child” is almost the textbook example for every film that came after.

Does It Work?

Wendy finally seeing what Jack’s been writing (Credit: Warner Bros)

To put it bluntly – yes, magnificently so. To me, The Shining is the best horror film ever made and one of the best films ever made, it is a genuine masterpiece. The escalating tension over the course of the film as Jack is slowly overcome by madness is incredible. The wildness in Nicholson builds to an absolute fever pitch. The glimpses of Jack trying to battle the darkness overwhelming him are difficult to watch as he can see what he is being driven towards and Kubrick’s horror is as much about the unhealthy dynamic in that family as anything supernatural. Even without the intervention of ghosts, you suspect it would not have been a happy stay (indeed some fans are of the opinion there are no ghosts and it is just the isolation that pushes Jack to madness). Duvall becomes ever more frantic as things unravel around her and the scene where she discovers just what Jack has been writing all this time is phenomenal.

The hotel is hugely important in this film, this vast and grand hotel that is eerily empty. We see Danny riding around the hotel on his tricycle, the camera almost in point of view, giving a very unusual visual perspective. The design of the hotel is glorious – the hotel carpets are genuinely famous and I recently bought a face mask that features the iconic design. Somewhere so big and so empty is inherently spooky, simple things that are in themselves perfectly innocuous because deeply sinister when there is no one who could have them.

The Shining is a perfect film for the Halloween season and is in fact my go-to Halloween film. If nothing else watching this film will clue you in on forty years of references to creepy twins, Red Rum and taking an axe to a door.

Obviously and easily 5 out of 5 stars but that does not really do it justice – a truly unmissable film.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Also Read: The Making of 2001: A Space Odyssey

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Richard Norton
Gentleman, podcaster and pop culture nerd, I love talking and writing about pretty much all pop culture.