Light of My Life
Stanley Kubrick’s iconic film is considered by many to be the greatest horror film of all time. Although it deviates greatly from Stephen King’s original novel and King himself has not been a fan of the film, it still remains an absolute masterpiece in the horror genre and is beloved by many. There are so many reasons to love this movie, with its many messages and allegories, metaphors and themes, and theories that have evolved over the past 40 years that keep this film hotly debated and cherished. This is the rare film that has gotten better with time and I am excited to see how it continues to grow in the decades to come.
When Jack Torrance and his family are offered a job at the Overlook Hotel to oversee its infrastructure during the winter months, the family is initially excited at the prospect. But 6 months of isolation and being snowed in can take a toll on their mental state, and as their cabin fever begins to develop their stay becomes less of an escape or more of a prison.
The mistake that most horror movies these days seem to make is an overreliance on jump scares and sound jolts to make the audience feel scared. This tactic is cheap and is similar to a comedian tickling someone to get them to laugh. What makes The Shining stand out as a horror movie is that it consistently keeps the tension elevated and the audience scared throughout the movie, and its jump scares (while minimal) seek to elevate the existing tension not present it for the first time.
The movie keeps building the tension through its scenery, music, and meticulous camerawork. The Overlook Hotel is a claustrophobic environment that makes the viewer feel isolated with this family. All though the movie will venture outside of this setting a few times, it keeps its focus on the family and their declining sanity while being in such a closed off environment. The score seeks to be subtle and only introduce itself in key moments of the film to elevate the audience’s fear and dread. Most of the time there isn’t even a score playing, just silence and that makes the viewing experience all the more terrifying.
The cinematography is nothing short of spectacular, with nice long and wide shots to establish the setting and where everything is in relation to another. Having these long takes also keeps us with the family longer, making it feel like we are actually with them experiencing these events. When they turn a corner, you are just as terrified as they are to see what is awaiting them. The fact that the movie keeps the tension throughout its runtime is an extraordinary feat of itself, and one of the many reasons that it is regarded as one of the best films of all time.
When there is creepy imagery to behold, the movie slowly builds to the reveal rather than just having it appear suddenly. Where most movies will have a creature or creepy girl pop out of nowhere, The Shining makes the audience anticipate these moments to the point where you’re not sure if there actually is going to be something or not. When that reveal is made, it is slow and meticulous and not sudden having the camera linger to truly unsettle the audience. It’s something that you don’t see in modern horror movies these days, which make these moments truly excellent looking 40 years back.
We can’t talk about The Shining without mentioning Jack Nicholson’s performance, who truly let’s his crazy side shine. It’s evident from the beginning of the movie that he’s a little off but his descent into madness is perfectly encapsulated by the expressions on Nicholson’s face. He owns the performance and you truly buy that this man had a slow descent into madness just given the little tics that he subtly brings. When he goes full mad, it’s captivating to see as he steals the show and terrifies the audience with his slow and methodical anticipation.
The Shining is a film that keeps on giving even 40 years after its release due to the amount of theories, speculations, hidden details, and unraveling it possesses. You can watch the film for what it is and then see it completely differently the second time. You notice a new detail and that presents different implications than what you initially expected. Fans have been debating the films ending for years and no one theory seems to reign triumphant over the rest. It still remains to this day a hotly debated film for filmlovers to unpack and dissect day in and day out.
I do not find one flaw with this film. It is genuinely creepy, it is suspenseful, it doesn’t hold back, it doesn’t cash in for cheap scares, it stays with you, it is an absolute masterpiece. Kubrick did an outstanding job with this film and although it isn’t what King had envisioned for his adaptation, it nonetheless has withstood the test of time to bring us something truly special. I am excited to see where this film ends up in the next 40 years and how we continue to unravel the mysteries of the Overlook Hotel.