The plot itself is simple. A man becomes the care-taker of a hotel during its winter season, bringing along his wife and young son. Whilst there, he sinks into madness, putting his family at danger. However, it’s the intricacies within the plot that makes this film more complex. For his seemingly unassuming son has a strange supernatural power, a power that gives the film its title. He is able to see more about the unsettling history of the hotel than anyone else, which allows the audience a gateway into the true terror that awaits.
The film manages to be truly scary and is up there with The Haunting (1963) as one of the most terrifying films of all time. Partly due to the physical points of the story and partly due to the non-digetic aspects of the film, it becomes a deeply unnerving experience. Combine horrific motifs such as the bloody elevators and twins in the corridor with the ear piercing score and isolating steady-cam tracking shots, we have a cocktail of atmospheric terror. The film comes to life through its macabre presentation. The rich photography and art direction gives the film a heightened sense of realism, being that the hotel feels incredibly real, in particular the scenes in which Jack is working on his type writer, light spilling in across the polished floor. The revolutionary and pioneering use of the steady-cam helps give the film a dream-like quality, or rather a nightmarish one. It is one of Kubrick’s best looking films, second only to the visual awe that is 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
The aesthetic qualities compliment and contribute to the scenes of outright horror, including the lady in the bathtub sequence, the ambiguously surreal bear-suit bj scene and the bloodied and mutilated twins in the corridor, which employs a use of sudden edits that truly heighten the fear and surprise of the scene. Meanwhile, the scenes of masterful suspense, such as the baseball bat sequence and most famously, the ‘Here’s Johnny’ scene, are filmed in a way that pushes the imposing sense of dread to the limits.
In terms of performances, Jack Nicholson steals the show. One of the finest portrayals of a maniac is cinema history, he is notable precursor to the flamboyant and eccentric characters such as Christian Bale in the adaptation of American Psycho (2000) and Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight (2008), in addition to his own portrayal as the famous Batman villain in 1989.
Opposite him is Shelley Duvall, who is real crowd-splitter when it comes to her performance as Jack Torrance’s burdened yet tolerating wife Wendy. Many say she over-acts, many say she just can’t act at all, whilst others defend her performance. The latter seems to the most unpopular category, which I just happen to fall in. Whilst her performance isn’t amongst the greatest of all time, I think it does her character justice. She is meant to be, to an extent, annoying. She is meant to appear somewhat reverie. She comes across as a naive and weak. After all, aren’t we meant to feel that she is in danger? Her performance allows the viewer to have that allusion, to feel fear for her. Through this irritating quality, she becomes somewhat endearing, since she doesn’t feel all that deserving of the situation she is put in. As the ending of the film draws closer, we see how strong her character can be and the meekness that preceded it sets this up to be all the more heroic. I truly think Duvall doesn't get enough credit for her range, here.
As her son is Danny Lloyd, who delivers one of the finest child performances of all time. He fits the cutesy kid type, like that of Justin Henry in Kramer vs. Kramer from the preceding year, whilst managing to refrain from appearing too clichéd cute. He competently portrays the role without over-doing it and gives a commendably in-depth performance of a strange young boy. I feel that if this film had been made a decade or two earlier, Bill Mumy would have suited the role well, if his performances in Twilight Zone episodes such as It’s a Good Life and Long Distance Call are anything to go by. In addition to the primary cast, a well chosen collection of supporting actors gives the film further credibility, including the magnificent performance from Scatman Crothers.
The Shining is an unsurpassable masterpiece, with far more to it than its most famous scenes. A surreal, nightmarish feature that deserves all the acclaim it gets.