Stanley Kubrick's superlative horror puzzle-box still spooks and spellbinds after all these years.
Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining has been remade (as a TV series, disastrously, in 1997), parodied, and recently inspired a documentary, Room 237, which explores various theories about its hidden meanings. But now this chilling film about a writer, Jack Torrance (played by Jack Nicholson), gradually going berserk as the caretaker of the bizarre Overlook Hotel is being released theatrically in a never-before-seen 144-minute version (aka the ‘US’ cut).
Though Kubrick regarded the 119-minute 'European' version as superior, and indeed endorsed it as 'official', this longer cut brings further intrigue to the table. Early scenes flesh out the family dynamic (Torrance’s alcoholism is referred to explicitly), though also erode some character ambiguity. A moment in which Jack admits to his wife that he fell in love with the hotel immediately and senses he’d been there before feels like too much of a reveal.
The most notable addition is a scene featuring a child psychologist who visits Jack’s son Danny (Danny Lloyd). "You don’t have anything to worry about," she says, incorrectly. Though the extra footage is largely inessential, it doesn’t detract from the film’s power to profoundly disturb on emotional, psychological and sensory levels.
The big screen is naturally the best place to appreciate the film’s astonishing camerawork. Snaking around the expanse of the Overlook, the camera assumes an omniscient, implicating power; a supernatural presence in itself. Even more chilling is the sound design, a deeply unsettling contrast of dead silence and piercing noise. The score is a tangle of discordant, high-pitched stabs and eerie howls that includes works by modernist composers like Bartok, Krzysztof Penderecki and the mournful synth dirge of Wendy Carlos. Thanks to the judicious sound editing, even the title cards are frightening.
Thematically, it’s a film of almost infinite depths. Kubrick presents a despairing view of American married life, where the lack of love and intimacy is accentuated by the claustrophobic surroundings. The only sex is extra-marital temptation, which transmogrifies horrifically (and unforgettably) into corporeal disgust. It’s also a brutal satire of the writing profession, exposing a vainglorious, terminally undisciplined boozehound who takes out his insecurities (and lack of honest-to-goodness talent) on his defenceless family.
Finally, The Shining is a film of remarkably contrasting performances. Most affecting is Shelley Duvall as harrowed wife Wendy. Duvall suffered a nervous breakdown on set, and toward the conclusion it doesn’t really seem like she’s acting at all. Nicholson, by contrast – all bared teeth and kinky eyebrows – somehow manages to overact even when comatose. His intensely physical, barely restrained turn moves the film more explicitly into the realm of black comedy.
The cherubic Danny Lloyd is also stunning as the supernatural boy. His is surely one of the great performances by a child actor, a touching portrait of innocence under duress as the sanctuary of family disintegrates in front of his eyes. Much like The Shining as a whole, his terror is timeless.
More of one of the greatest horror films of all-time? Yes please.
Atmospheric, blackly funny and utterly terrifying.
Essential viewing. Prepare to be disturbed.