The Shining (1980)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Artistic Value: * * * *
Entertainment Value: * * * * ½

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Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), a frustrated writer, takes a job as a caretaker at an isolated mountain resort that has been closed for the winter. Unfortunately, the place is haunted, and, after having lived there for some time with his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and his son Danny (Danny Lloyd), Jack's sanity begins to deteriorate. Meanwhile, Danny uses some vague power, the "shining" of the title, to communicate with the ghosts inhabiting the enormous hotel.

Although certainly not a masterpiece, Stanley Kubrick's The Shining is among the best horror films to have been made. It is visually memorable, well acted, and genuinely frightening.

The director has given the movie a distinctive look that distinguishes it from most other films intended to elicit feelings of fear from the viewer, and which greatly enhances the eery sense of menace he evokes throughout. Instead of wrapping his characters in darkness and enclosing them in tight spaces, as most horror films do, Kubrick has illumined them in bright light and set them in spacious but lonely rooms.

The strange feelings of dread and isolation Kubrick arouses with his vast, empty sets are complemented with a number of other devices. He proves especially adept at incorporating into this threatening world various simple but profoundly frightening images. For example, the two young girls encountered by the boy while he plays in the corridors of the hotel are surprisingly disturbing, despite the fact that there is little about them that is overtly horrific. Kubrick combines both these elements, the frequently potent images and the lonely sets, with nearly perfect pacing so that not only does he arouse an ever increasing sense of immediate danger, but he enhances it with feelings of foreboding. Jack's increasing madness and Danny's encounters with the spirits, as well as his creepy chanting of the apparently nonsensical word "redrum," not only make the viewer aware that something deadly is lurking in the hotel with the Torrance family but also elicit a dreadful anticipation of even worse events looming in the near future.

Despite its many virtues, the film is hardly perfect. The "shining" of the title is very vaguely defined and never well utilized. Much of the story hinges on Danny's special abilities, and one particularly gruesome tragedy arises from it, but Kubrick seems uncomfortable about doing anything with this mysterious power. As a consequence, certain elements of the movie do not hang well together, and the story is not nearly as satisfying as it could have been.

The acting, however, is generally good and almost always adds to the film's emotive impact. Jack Nicholson, in particular, gives an unforgettable performance. His portrayal of an increasingly isolated, increasingly disturbed individual is truly frightening and completely convincing. While his character seems slightly unhinged from the movie's start, and later evolves into one of film's most wildly psychotic villains, the actor never reduces him to a mere caricature. The viewer is initially able to sympathize with Jack so that the horrific acts he commits once he has lost his mind are tragic not only because of the suffering he causes others, but also because he is destroying himself as well. Duvall's performance is generally uninspired, and is certainly never as good as Nicholson's, but it is competent. While she may not be memorable, she is able to bring out the fear and concern of a person who, though unaware of the supernatural happenings being experienced by her husband and son, is severed from the rest of the world and trapped with two people who are behaving very strangely. Even Danny Lloyd, despite his age, contributes positively to the film. While I cannot really compliment him for his acting, he does effectively convey his character's fear and allows him to lend a strange creepiness to the movie.

Whatever its faults, The Shining is among the most frightening films I have ever seen. Watching it is a genuinely affecting and memorable experience.

Review by Keith Allen

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