Day Ten: The Shining (MotM 2017)

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The Shining is the worst movie I’ve ever seen. Not only is the idea that this film is in any way, shape, or form “good” or “a classic” laughable, but it’s also delusional. There’s nothing scary about this film, there’s nothing intriguing about this film, and the whole thing is nothing but a set-up for random spurts of bloodshed and taglines. “Heeeeere’s Johnny!” my ass. I’m glad the film’s having fun, because it sucked most of it out of me for two and a half hours. Absolutely worthless.

Now that I have your attention, let me tell you what I really think.

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Despite the heavy sarcasm of the opening paragraph, there is just a hair of truth to it. I do find the idea of this film being a classic to be laughable, and I was never really scared by anything that happened. Some may argue that it’s not so much being scared that’s important but being uncomfortable, I hardly felt that way either. More than anything, it was a slightly curious aura that surrounded me, looking forward to what would come next and how the film would justify the things that were occurring. Classifying this as Horror is accurate, as there are definitely elements of it, though to consider it scary really depends on one’s expectations.

The key aspect of The Shining lies in atmosphere. Nearly every scene is dedicated to building up a certain anticipation of things to come, sculpting certain moods to stimulate an air of nervousness. Scenes of isolation permeate after the introductory chapter, with its effects becoming more and more noticeable as time goes by. Psychological warfare is the name of the game. A slow, gradual build to a shocking and harrowing climax that shakes the core of the (not so) cozy family. If one believes this to be scary, then The Shining will probably be a perfect fit.

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Though this sounds nice on its own, it probably wouldn’t work if not for some rounded characters. Thankfully, The Shining has such a luxury. Though not highlighted to the tightest scrutiny, the family three of Jack, Wendy, and their son, Danny is provided some subtle characterization through words and actions. Very early on, it is established that Jack hasn’t been a role model father, with a certain incident lingering over the family as an oft-ignored elephant in the room. The fact that Wendy not only continues to see him but jumps at the idea of having the three live alone in a hotel for half a year says a lot about her character. Danny is quiet and inclusive, resorting to talking to an “imaginary friend” named Tony. For a child to experience a traumatic event, this behavior isn’t uncommon. It also helps the story justify his role as a naive and curious child, along with his hesitance around his father. Even more, Wendy doesn’t seem too comfortable being around Jack, either, but puts up with it for the sake of maintaining the family environment. The family dynamic speaks volumes towards how the events come to play out.

I would argue that the beginning scenes and a majority of the first half are the strongest parts of the film. It isn’t until Jack devolves into a state of pure madness that the film becomes little more than unhinged horror filler.

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I neglected to mention until this point, but The Shining is based (loosely) on a Stephen King novel of the same name. I’ve read some of King’s stories, and have seen various adaptations of his works. I’m not a huge fan of Stephen King. This film is little different, as the story is only as good as its foundation, which, quite frankly, is shaky at best. It checks off the boxes in terms of introduction, focus on character history, and the anticipation of coming darkness, but not so much why or how the darkness comes to be. Plenty of plotholes arise where things that are supposedly figments of the imagination become tangible, or are too left to interpretation. It screams lazy writing, where the author expects the reader to come up with the answer to make up for their own inability to think of anything themselves. Of course, there are exceptions and explanations for most cases, but here I feel it’s simply fantastical for no reason.

Here’s something I don’t normally complain about too often: acting in this film is spotty. Jack Nicholson is said to have a legendary performance, though I only see it as good. He’s certainly the best actor in the film, but he has hardly any competition. Duvall has a decent performance later on, though I feel her acting in comfortable situations felt a little too cozy, too muddled in nervous monologues and jabbering. Perhaps it better suits her character, though I can’t help think her performance was somewhat off. And Danny Lloyd? Wow. There’s probably a reason this was the only film he signed on for. His character was, at times, hard to even watch. His portrayal of a shy kid was fine, but once he started talking as “Tony” or constantly blabbered “redrum” every three seconds, I wanted to take an ax to myself. This unevenness in execution, especially during the climax, ended up slightly ruining the experience for me. It came across as, at its worst, unintentionally humorous. It never felt truly dreadful to me, just odd.

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More of a subjective issue, but somewhat similar to that of Whiplash and Kiki’s Delivery ServiceThe Shining has a bit of a one-track mind. The entire focus is used to develop the feeling of anticipation and suspense, with additional feelings of isolation, absurdity, and foreshadowing. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this if done correctly (Whiplash), but it becomes a gamble for a director to stake so much on the execution of a single point or purpose, which is likely why subplots are added to cushion the blow in case all else fails. In this case, and of my own accord, the film more or less failed, as the climax didn’t shake me down to my core, or cause me to flip my inward boundaries to the brink of discombobulation. I’m not sure what that last statement meant, but it sounds good. There felt more effort and dedication into making the build-up feel special. Jack Nicholson can only run so much.

In the end, the most I can say about The Shining is that it’s overrated. Not that it’s bad or it’s not worth watching, just that it’s hype doesn’t match the actual product. It’s dated to a degree, the performances are too fidgety, the story is laughably vague, and the tension only works for so long. Still, it really does well in wrapping the viewer into a sense of intrigue, giving just enough bit by bit to keep the eyes glued onto the screen. A decent entry in Kubrick’s legendary line-up.

Final Score: 6/10

The rating for all other films can be found on my IMDb account.

For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!

3 thoughts on “Day Ten: The Shining (MotM 2017)

  1. I like the attention to small details in this film in the way that everything is designed to unnerve people. Doors that don’t open the same way in different shots, confusing internal layout, awkward camera angles and shots that confuse, it all adds to a great atmosphere. Admittedly, the story is what it is, but I don’t expect much of a plot from horror so that never really bothered me.
    You are absolutely right about the performances though. Other than Jack (who does the job) the rest are very much hit and miss which kind of takes some of the tension out of the film.

  2. Actually, this movie is a poor reflection of the book. Stanley Kubrick turned out what is in my opinion a very boring lame assed movie and II couldn’t wait for it to be over. Stephen King was very disappointed. A bad movie does not always mean a bad book or bad author.

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