First The Shining, then Motel Hell, then Hostel… Are we forbidden to feel comfortable in homes way from homes? What kind of dwelling is left for me to visit that won’t end in a night of terror, possession, amputation, and/or eternal damnation? A House on Haunted Hill? A Cabin in the Woods? Grandmother’s House??? For the sweet sake of saintly salvation! May as well give up and pitch a tent in the woods!
Little is creepier than something that’s designed to be spiffy, grand, and luxurious but only appears so when filled with people. Meet the Overlook Hotel. This recluse resort features everything one could imagine in a weekend escape with the grandparents: a gold ballroom, vast chandelier-lit halls, a remote location in the mountains, and a world-famous hedge maze! While the Overlook is a popular destination in the summer, the winter storms (three- to five-month affairs) make it completely inaccessible. To make sure nothing freezes over, this year the hotel has hired Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) to look after the empty estate during the winter. For Jack, who’s looking for a quiet place to hash out a novel, the job feels like a perfect fit. Almost like it was meant to be… The solitude isn’t completely absolute, however, as Jack brings along his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), his inner demons, and a busload of ghosts. On top of these other residents, Jack has to live with the knowledge that a past caretaker went completely cabin-crazy and bludgeoned his wife and daughters to death. This simple fact is the perfect fuel to Jack’s kindling rage and molten bipolar disorder.
The Shining is as much a ghost story as it is a warning against ditching your smartphone for five months. Jack starts out just fine – as fine as one can be with a glimmer of crazy under those arched brows – but begins to lose his cool when left to his own thoughts for long periods of time. Every sentence becomes either tainted with an undercurrent of sarcasm or an ominous foreshadowing. Don’t worry, Danny, he “would never… ever hurt you…” *soul-piercing glare under coned eyebrows*.
How is Wendy not affected by the suffocating solitude? It’s hard to imagine anything affecting wispy Wendy. Even with a butcher’s knife in her hand, the woman still runs up a staircase like she’s waving two fistfuls of ribbons at a Maypole parade. Her love for Jack goes about as deep as my love for colouring placemats. She spends the brunt of her time either wandering around avoiding her high-strung husband, thinking of how to make the best of things without inciting his murderous rage, or she’s hanging out with Danny. Either way, she keeps herself actively occupied.
Danny, it could be said, is the great provoker. This very intense/partially possessed child skips an entire year of school to roll around an empty hotel and keep horrific warnings of future carnage completely to himself. Thanks, Danny. While Inside Out’s Riley is off playing with the part dolphin, part cotton candy Bing Bong, Danny’s imaginary friend, Tony, lives in his mouth, talks like a chain smoker, and tells Danny what to do and what never to speak of. The only rocket to the moon here is the one at the bottom of Danny’s prescription meds.
Outside of these three characters we have a few ghosts, a few overly trusting park rangers, and the token black cook. Their only purpose is to give us a brief repose from Jack’s crazy, Wendy’s flouncing, and Danny’s horrific visions of butchered children. Jack Nicholson steels the show from just about everybody, particularly the replaceable supporting cast that does a stellar job of reading their scripts.
While the story does drag a bit, to the point where suspense becomes frustration, The Shining is a fantastic example of character development. Jack goes from weird to crazy to unintelligible. His descent into madness is creepier than any ghost, vision, or possession on screen. The Shining is more of a suspense movie than a jump-scare, but it will make you avoid room 237 in every hotel for the rest of your life. Still, it’s more about the uprising of personal demons than it is about flesh-rotten old women laughing in the haunted bathroom. If you’ve got a few hours to kill, chop away at them with this uxoricidal, 6.5/10.