Classic Movie ReviewsMovie ReviewsClassic Review: The Shining (1980)

Guest WriterNovember 8, 2019100/100
Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd
Stanley Kubrick, Diane Johnson
Stanley Kubrick
R (United States)
Running Time
146 minutes
Overall Score
Rating Summary
The Shining is so completely brilliant across the board. Jack Nicholson plays one of the most unnerving characters in horror film history.

The literary works of Stephen King have been vastly mined for cinematic adaptations. We’re even to the point in the last few years that Hollywood is doing remakes of previous films. The rarer situation is the adaptation of a sequel novel. With the release of Doctor Sleep, it seems a good time to take a look at The Shining. Upon its initial 1980 release, it received middling reviews and even garnered Razzie nominations for actress Shelley Duvall and director Stanley Kubrick. However, as time passed, the film was re-evaluated and is now seen as one of the greatest horror films of all time. And from this reviewer’s vantage point, that high level reputation is completely earned.

The Shining follows a man named Jack Torrance (Nicholson), a writer and former school teacher who accepts a job as the winter caretaker of the majestic Overlook Hotel in the Colorado mountains. He moves with into the hotel with his wife Wendy (Duvall) and young son Danny (Lloyd). Things then begin to break down as Danny further manifests seemingly supernatural powers and Jack begins experiencing a mental breakdown form the isolation. Or maybe he’s experiencing something entirely different.

There is so much to praise about The Shining. Nicholson is so incredible in this role. The easy way he can move between shades of forced nonchalance when meeting his new boss, charming happiness while enjoying a glass of bourbon, and utter madness when things go sideways is something to behold. Lloyd also provides excellent work, in spite of his young age. He’s asked to be the center of multiple critical scenes and he performs with aplomb. Duvall is perfectly fine. Her performance is not particularly good because her line reads sometimes feel very awkward. However, given that she’s playing a largely timid woman, it does add a certain amount of authenticity to the character.

The Shining also features some of the most beautiful production design and set decoration. The Overlook Hotel looks thoroughly gorgeous with its spacious corridors and ballrooms, eerie hedge maze on the grounds, and the wealth of vibrant colors everywhere. The vast forest and overbearing snowy location shots are also stunning. They add to the hotel’s inviting facade that gives way to crushing isolation. The musical score is also really potent. It makes so many scenes feel much more intense without being overbearing. Of course, all of this craft is to be expected of Kubrick. His eye for perfect detail helps create an exacting mood and story that is so effective.

Where The Shining gets most interesting is in trying to figure out what it means. So many hypotheses have been put forth as to what the film really is. Is it a ghost story? Is it about the terror of isolation? Is it purely a metaphor for writer’s block? What about issues of toxic masculinity and sexism? Spoilers are required to truly look deeply at these questions, which this review won’t get into for those who have not watched the film yet. But it’s safe to say that this film is one that can provide so much thoughtful analysis.

Danny Lloyd acquits himself excellently with how much he has to carry. The detail that went into creating the Overlook Hotel to make it into a character of its own is superb. The music and camera work are also really effective in supplementing the hotel’s natural atmosphere. Kubrick is remembered as a legend and a master.

The Shining is just one example of why he earned that reputation in the first place. Everyone should watch it, regardless of if you’re planning to see Doctor Sleep or not.

*still courtesy of Warner Bros.*

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