I can’t sit through a horror film. Or, I can sit, I just watch through clammy fingers, anticipating each jump scare while trying not to squeal and wondering why I can’t just be watching an instantly forgettable romcom instead.
I have long tried to overcome the fear of horror – there was Paranormal Activity, Get Out, The Witch (for an unfathomable reason) – but there is one horror I have lied about seeing on multiple occasions: The Shining. Whether on dates, with friends, or to strangers, I have used my viewing of The Simpsons’ parody of the Kubrick classic to feign knowledge, pretending that I, too, am a part of “the culture”.
I have seen other Kubricks, but The Shining had always eluded me. If The Simpsons was anything to go by, I knew I would not like seeing apparitions of mute child-twins in a hotel corridor or Homer, sorry Jack Nicholson, axing his way through a closed door and repetitively writing the same thing over and over (the content of many an anxiety dream anyway). But perhaps it is time to rip off the plaster – it surely couldn’t be that bad?
It was bad. Good, in a “cinematic appreciation” way, but bad in a sitting at home alone during a nationwide quarantine way. No one had mentioned the music to me before; the score undulating from fluttering strings to thundering synths and that shrill whistle tone making those long tracking shots especially heart-palpitating. In fact, Kubrick’s penchant for lengthy, silent takes makes perfect sense now, elongating observation into its own sense of anticipatory fear. And this gels so well with the evolution of Nicholson’s face throughout; morphing from smug and clean-shaven to craggy and wide-eyed, broken only by his terrifying rictus grin – a perfect foil to Shelley Duvall’s incredulity. Although, reading up afterwards, it seems much of this performance was manifested by Kubrick’s on-set bullying and exhaustive tactics.
Kubrick masterfully develops so many horror tropes though – the lone, ghostly bartender, the eerie locked room, the creepy kid who should really just be in intensive therapy, foreboding flashbacks/flashforwards – and at least his lone black character (Scatman Crothers) lasts throughout the majority of the film, although he does of course die first.
Really, though, isn’t this just an allegory for the attendant traumas of the writing process, especially when undertaken under an enforced quarantine, with nothing for company apart from your own imagination and your increasingly unnerving surroundings? One thing is certain, I did not sleep well after watching The Shining and before writing this. Turns out all social isolation and no play makes this film very relatable indeed.