It is always hard to scare someone without any special effects. Stanley Kubrick in his film the Shining, brings out the sordid through the acting and the very minimal set. The cast is extremely limited, consisting of simply three main actors with other minor characters serving as a back drop to their madness.
The main cast is introduced to us quit gently at first. Their is nothing special to note about them, as they just seem to be a normal trio of a family. The film properly starts when the snow storm cuts off the three from the rest of the world. This is when everything goes down into nothing. Their is an ambiguity to the film that seeps through every of its aspects. The unnatural is fused with the real, leaving us wondering who is actually right. We are lacking a real observer into what is happening in the hotel. Each character revolves around himself, and lets that influence his perception of the other two. The lack of trust is further accentuated by the desperate feeling of uselessness shown by the subsidiary characters such as Dick Hallorann, the cook who shares the same psychic gifts as Danny, the son of Jack and Wendy. He feels something is wrong and decides to come back to see. It takes him a long time to get there, as we see him regularly making his way to the hard to reach hotel. Yet his influence on the characters is minimal as all the wait comes to naught when he is brutally murdered by Jack.
This confirms quit early in the film that we are left to believe one of the three protagonists. Two of them speak to themselves or to some imaginary character, while the third Wendy, seems lost in her own terrible imagination, that leads her to believe that Jack has always been insane, which may or may not be true, but once again we might not be sure. This constant unknown creates a dreadful feeling of unease, which is further accentuated by the incredible neutrality and minimality of the hotel. Its impressive size is countered by an interesting set of geometrical designs that seem to shrink the whole scene. The curious ambiguity is well shown when we are following Danny on his little tricycle, in a child's version of the opening sequence of "The Naked Gun".
Danny's madness is an interesting case, as it is a fantastical part of the film that doesn't come out as weird, such is the success of the reality of the movie. His weird habit of talking to his imaginary friend in a lower octave voice is surprisingly normal. AS Ebert says in his own excellent review: "
King would have us believe that the hotel is haunted. Kubrick is less definitive in the interpretations he offers." (Berardinelli: 2009)
Yet not everyone has seen the shining light in their eyes when they see this movie, as the Variety staff explains on their site, " With everything to work with, director Stanley Kubrick has teamed with jumpy Jack Nicholson to destroy all that was so terrifying about Stephen King's bestseller." (Variety Staff: 1979) This state of mind is representational of the general feel the public had for the film when it came out. Its legendary status nowadays shows the evolution.
Berardinelli, James, 2009:
Variety Staff, 1979 : http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117794836?refcatid=31
Ebert, Roger, 2006 : http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060618/REVIEWS08/606180302
Imagery, In order of appearance: