The Shining: A First Time Viewer’s Reaction
“You’ve never seen The Shining?!” I asked my partner, my voice hysterically raising in pitch and volume. I was utterly shocked to learn that the person I’d been dating for six months hadn’t seen such a quintessential psychological horror film.
“We’ve got to fix this. Maybe we could find a theater screening it on Halloween.” I told him. We couldn’t find a showing of The Shining on Halloween night, so we bought seats at Alamo Drafthouse for Sunday evening, the 30th. Like a kid snuggled in their bed the night before Christmas morning, I was giddy in the hours leading up to the movie.
The Shining isn’t your typical horror movie. While my partner Andrew and I both share a love for psychological thrillers, neither of us is a huge fan of horror. Instead, we prefer mind-bending, Hitchcock-esque films. The Shining doesn’t just fit these criteria, it delivers on even more. The feverish narrative takes its sweet time to unravel as the viewer stumbles through the twisted thickets of the protagonist, Jack Torrance’s mind. I was positive that Andrew was going to find The Shining just as enthralling and spine-chilling as I did when I first saw the movie.
Andrew knew next to nothing about The Shining when we stepped into the theater; he only knew that the film takes place in a rural hotel, and it is one of my favorites. I made sure not to tell him anything about the plot. I wanted his first viewing to be untarnished by any expectations or speculation of what was in store. We filed into the dim room, took our seats, ordered some buttery bottomless popcorn, and then the show began.
The instant the opening credits began to roll, tense music filled the theater. The first two minutes of The Shining is a bird’s eye view of the steep, sweeping Rocky Mountains. The shot follows the Torrance family’s car winding up the road to the Overlook Hotel. Andrew and I both agreed that this opening scene sets the tone for the movie very well. Even while you watch the dreamy and wild Colorado landscapes pass by, the suspenseful music leads you to feel deeply unsettled. It’s as if there’s something terribly foreboding about the tree-lined path to The Overlook.
The stressful soundtrack is about half of The Shining’s scare factor. Every note of the loud instrumental music chills the listener to their bones; even when it’s unclear why you should be afraid. The Shining features relatively minimal violence as far as horror movies go. Only two people have bloody injuries in the entire movie, or four– if you count the “ghosts” of the hotel’s sinister past. However, the jarring string music makes the audience flinch and jump right out of their seats— suspending them in a state of perpetual dread for two and half hours. Andrew told me that, at several points throughout the first part of the film, he thought something terrible was going to happen because of the intense music. Likewise, he was shocked when Jack’s wife, Wendy, and their son Danny survived; the soundtrack seemed to be constantly alluding to their deaths. In the end, the only person who was actually killed by Jack was the heroic cook. He was the one who brought the vehicle that Wendy and Danny used to escape.
The Shining isn’t your typical horror movie. There is hardly a single “scary” event that happens in the first half of the movie. The first hour or so is solely exposition that introduces the characters, and primes the viewer for what is to come. The last hour and a half, however, is a beautifully frustrating journey through Jack’s spiral into madness as the spirits of Overlook Hotel poison his mind. It’s as if the narrative is on the front end of a terrifying, bloody climax throughout its entire second half. Although the film had a relatively happy ending, neither Andrew nor I felt particularly relieved leaving the theater. Instead, we were jarred, and slightly confused. There are so many ambiguous events in the plot that leaves the viewer asking themselves: Did that actually happen? Or was that all in Jack’s twisted mind? For instance, did Jack escape from the dry storage room where Wendy locked him? Or was he released by a spirit from the hotel?
Needless to say, Andrew appreciated The Shining for the classic film that it is— and we both had fun getting spooked. Who knows? Maybe watching The Shining will turn into a Halloween tradition.