35. EMPIRE MAGAZINE GREATEST: The Shining

August 16, 2018

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick, Diane Johnson
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers, Danny Lloyd
Runtime: 119 Minutes

 

Original UK Release: 1980

 

★★★★★

 

From the establishing shots, you get the feeling that there is something very wrong with the world that the family are about to enter in The Shining.

 

Detached from Stephen King’s original text, distrustful of the more obviously occult elements of the story and distancing its world, using it as a framework for a far more insidious inspection of the vicissitudes of reality. Kubrick and Diane Johnson’s screenplay cuts the fat from the novel and makes something deeper of its depiction of ghosts and writer's block. It’s about the lack of communication and the physical and emotional contact that is withheld by this emotionally distant family. The paranormal is downplayed to focus on the real human evils of this paradigm. 

 

Jack’s hallucinatory episodes may be an emblematic result of his recovering alcoholism and unsatisfied home life creeping up on him in unexpected ways. His descent into madness is disquieting in that it’s all done visually through stark cuts and slow, creeping photography that encroaches upon the characters.

 

There are eerie silences to be found in the sparse, massive and empty frames. Long takes of the roaming, following and chasing camera that stalks and retracts from its characters claustrophobia within the isolated and labyrinthine setting courtesy of Rory Walker’s production work, interrupted by these unsettling moments of startling sound design and visual strangeness – along with Carlos and Elkind's terrifyingly sharp score. There’s that feeling of insanity that drops from beneath your feet as the narrative plunges into darkness. 

 

Shelly Duval puts her heart and soul into her terrified performance as the helpless Wendy, only matched by Jack Nicholson’s equally brilliant performance as the bat-shit crazy Jack Torrence, allowing Nicholson to literally rip the scenery to pieces.

 

Free of King’s prosaic overjustification; this is strange, horrifying and bizarrely funny in its spiralling madness.

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