LIFF26 - The Shining - Cinema Review

'an opera of slow-burning fear and expertly-conducted dread'

Stanley Kubrick's Horror masterpiece, the most striking thing about The Shining is just how early on the terror starts. Even if you aren't shaking at the low-tones throbbing over the helicopter shots in the introduction, or sensing the discomfort in Wendy's (Shelley Duvall) meeting with the doctor (Anne Jackson), there is not long to wait until Jack (Jack Nicholson) is glimpsed maniacally staring from the window at Wendy and Danny (Danny Lloyd) playing in the snow. It has begun.

From that point forwards, Kubrick's film is an opera of slow-burning fear and expertly-conducted dread. As Danny's visions increase in intensity, the film moves onwards towards the terrifying final chase, as Jack loses all semblance of humanity. The Shining should never make you jump and there is never anything horrifying enough on the screen to make you avert your eyes, yet the film is, still, incredibly scary, a perfect blend of sound design and directorial nous.

So what's it all about? Room 237 (more on that in the near future) would have it that The Shining is about the genocide of American Indians, the Nazi's extermination of The Jews and/or The Apollo moon landing. Whilst, to various degrees, some or all of those ideas may have some credence, the truth, as ever, seems to be much simpler.

The Horror of The Shining, the haunting of The Overlook Hotel and the forewarning that something is going to happen there, all come, originally, from Danny. The events aren't perpetrated by him, but he is the first to see them coming. This hints that Kubrick's film is really concerned with a child's eye view and, eventually, a child's eye view of a parental break up. Witness the scene where Jack irrationally loses his temper with Wendy over her interrupting his writing. Danny walks in with injuries on his neck. The quarrel between his parents has literally scarred him. As Danny tries to mediate in the dispute later on, by bringing in 'outside help', Jack rejects the presence of another man in the equation and continues his descent into a ruined relationship that began well before the film starts. There are, of course, other readings, but that The Shining is concerned with the destruction of the family is fairly plain.

The masterpiece status of Kubrick's film is rarely called into question and nor should it be, yet there are moments that threaten to divert the film from its course to greatness. Nicholson is, especially at the start, too vivid in his portrayal. It works in a way - so that we believe Jack when he is let loose from the constraints of sanity entirely - but it also feels forced and the actor stretched. In a reversal, Duvall actually gets worse as the film goes on, culminating in her ridiculous running style, which has drawn murmurs of laughter from audiences the world over.

Performance ticks though are things that a film as good as this can overcome. Kubrick shoots with the confidence of someone who knows they are on to something special, and the incredible tracking shots of Danny on his kart symbolise the film: a rare moment of arthouse and genre marriage, which can only result in icon status. The Shining is that film, a perfect blend of designs and ideas, which results in aspiration and terror.




The 26th Leeds International Film Festival runs from 1st November to 18th November at venues around the city. Programming includes several UK premières, the popular Night Of and Day Of The Dead and a selection of competition films in the Official Selection.

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