Showing posts with label family drama. Show all posts
Showing posts with label family drama. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Pet Sematary (2019)

GENERAL INFO:
Director: Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer
Studios: Di Bonaventura Pictures, Paramount Pictures
Starring: Jason Clarke, John Lithgow, Amy Seimetz, Jeté Laurence
Tagline: Sometimes dead is better; They don't come back the same.
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: horror, supernatural thriller, zombie, haunting, family drama, remake, Stephen King
Scare score: B-
Rating: B+/B


Plot overview: After moving from Boston to Maine, Louis Creed (Clarke) and his wife Rachel (Seimetz) are hoping for a more calm way of life so that they can slow things down while raising their two kids. Shortly after settling in, however, the family begins to be plagued by strange events, culminating in the death of their beloved pet cat, Church. The Creeds' new friend and neighbor, Jud Crandall (Lithgow), decides to help with their grieving, so he takes Louis beyond the local pet 'sematary' to a dark and ancient place to bury Church, who comes back home later that night, seemingly alive but fundamentally changed. When disaster strikes the family again shortly thereafter, the temptation to bring the dead back to life proves too strong for Louis, even though he knows that whatever comes back will not be the same as what was lost.

I waited a few weeks to see this movie in theaters, and I ended up having an afternoon showing all to myself. The projectionist even fast forwarded past all the previews so that I could get straight to the movie. Sometimes living in a small town has its perks for Horror Buff.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, but considering his prolific and unmatched impact on horror as we know it, the majority of Stephen King's body of work that was adapted to film fell victim to the era of production, that is to say so many of his books became movies cursed by the production quality of the '80s. I think The Shining is a stunning exception to this, but when you think about movies like Thinner (which is still fun) or especially Graveyard Shift, even Cujo and Christine to a lesser extent, I think it becomes more apparent. Anywho, nothing a remake can't fix... enter Pet Sematary.

The original movie from 1989 was one of the earliest horror movies I was continuously exposed to while growing up, and it has had a very lasting impression on me. It felt like it was always on TV, and some of my earliest memories of horror are from this film. I think one of the images that has scared me most throughout my life, all because of how young I was when I would see it on TV, was that of Rachel's sister and her case of spinal meningitis from hell. That being said, my interest was piqued when I learned that this new version was coming out.

My general thoughts are that this was a fun adaptation but not groundbreaking. It had a lot of familiar elements with some other scattered references to King's mythos (e.g. Derry sign while Rachel is in traffic), but it also made some bold choices to change the plot of the book and the original. Even though Horror Buff feels like a purist so much of the time, I didn't see the harm in freshening up the story with some of these new or altered bits of plot.

I really enjoyed the production quality and I thought the film was pretty lovely to watch, including all that beautiful Maine wilderness. I especially loved the creepy animal masks the local children would wear on their processions into the Pet Sematary when laying a lost loved one down; this was one of those eerie things just believable or fun enough that a small town might do and that would look as terrifying to outsiders like Rachel as it did to us as viewers— but that might be totally normal to locals who had observed the tradition for generations.

*SPOILER ALERT*

I also thought the acting was pretty solid throughout the movie, or at least in lazier scenes that it never got into that awful family drama aspect that we've seen in so many horror movies focused around the family unit. I recognized Clarke's face but I'm not too familiar with his other work; he could have fooled me that he's Australian! I didn't love him in the beginning but he grew on me during the film. Amy Seimetz (The Possession, Alien: Covenant) was given a sort of strange role with Rachel, who really misses out on most of the action. I liked her but I didn't feel especially moved by the re-exploration of her childhood trauma, which I felt she could have acted more strongly. She was great in her final scenes, however. I think one of the smartest plot change decisions this movie made was to kill and reanimate Ellie (Laurence) instead of Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavoie). I thought the young Laurence has a great look about her and I wonder if we will see more of her, and it felt more natural to utilize a more mature actor—even though she's still a little kid—to play such a crucial role in the movie. I laughed out loud at the early scene when she comments how "cemetery" is spelt wrong on the sign at the pet sematary. ELLIE IS ALL OF US. Especially as her undead version, Laurence brought a lot of morbid fun to the movie— there was something mature about her contemplative nature upon realizing her own deadness and incompatibility with the natural world. I could have done without that demented ballet scene, though.

Pretty much the whole time, I was expecting the infantile Gage to get killed, and as the first movie showed us, there is only so much you can do with a child that young coming back as some demonic zombie. I was even nervous that it would become special effect heavy to carry that all out, given how young Gage was. So as my stomach was all in knots anticipating the inevitable during the birthday party scene, it's fair to say I was really surprised with how that all ended up. Why wouldn't these people have built a giant fence along their property line? Forget the creepy cemetery and ancient Indian burial ground (*yawn*)— that highway was a nightmare! Admittedly, I jumped pretty hard the first time a truck sped by early on in the movie. After that, I really didn't think this movie was too scary. There was some classic suspense, and even just the right amount of gore between the flashback to Zelda's (Alyssa Levine) death, Ellie attacking Jud (Achilles tendon iconic to the original), and that particularly enjoyable early scene when Louis tries to save former college student and future ghost Victor Pascow (Obssa Ahmed) following an accident. I chuckled during Jud's death scene as we see demon zombie Church licking his little cat lips in anticipation— that was great.

Fun fact: Stephen King was inspired to write this book while working at the University of Maine (much like Louis) after his family cat was killed by a truck on a busy nearby road. He had to bury the cat and explain what had happened to his daughter when he started to wonder, what would happen if the cat could come back, only different?

Otherwise the horror here was kind of odd at times. I think it's almost more that I found myself too busy questioning the logic behind everything that I couldn't focus on what exactly was happening. Why does Victor get to haunt Louis? Especially when there is a special burial site to reanimate the dead, where does a random ghost come into play? Why in the world did Jud ever think that bringing Church back to life would be a good idea, especially given his story about his pet dog and the implications about his late wife? Are the dead simply brought back to life with a grudge, or is this more of a demonic possession happening? While the end of the movie is being considered shocking now, I felt the last couple of minutes were not wholly satisfying and that the movie even ended on a strange note. (Not to mention it breaks my first Cardinal Rule!)

I know the Indian burial ground trope is tired and has received its fair share of due criticism, but I enjoyed this movie's quick references and short sighting of the wendigo, a prevailing piece of Native American folklore that scared me a lot as a kid. I think this movie examines the breakdown of the nuclear family unit, exploring not only death but grief and loss in general. I wonder if there is commentary on the guilt so common in grief, and if that guilt can be extended to America's bloody colonial history. As Jud mentions, perhaps burying Church in the burial ground in the first place started a string of events that would ultimately lead to the Creeds' demise, or maybe the events were totally random. Is there an element of revenge here? Who are the demons returning in the dead's bodies, anyhow? Or am I overthinking it?

Final critique: This wasn't a bad movie, but it wasn't the amazing remake you might anticipate after almost exactly 30 years (the original was released April 21, 1989). Then again, the actual material here is pretty specific, and I don't think there was much more you could have changed without losing the story, or without losing the audience who is first and foremost dedicated to King. Though not a terribly scary movie, the combination of jump scares, brief violence/ gore, and the generally dark mood of the film might mean some people will have to sit this one out. The moral dilemma here is enough to have you thinking about this movie for a while after. How far would you go if you had the power to reverse death? Or is it better to accept that the loved one you lost can never come back, at least not as their original self?

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Hereditary (2018)

GENERAL INFO:
Director: Ari Aster
Studios: A24, PalmStar Media, Finch Entertainment, Windy Hill Pictures
Starring: Toni Collette, Ann Dowd, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro
Tagline: Every family tree hides a secret.
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: horror, supernatural thriller, family drama, mystery, occult, witches, cult
Scare score: A
Rating: A+


Plot overview: After the death of her secretive mother, Annie Graham's (Collette) family begins to be plagued by suspicious and tragic events. Stricken by grief, Annie falls farther away from her family: strained husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), withdrawn son Peter (Wolff), and distant daughter Charlie (Shapiro). As the family continues to unravel, Annie finds solace in Joan (Dowd), a woman from a grief support group who tries convincing her that the dead may not really be gone after all.

This is a stunningly horrifying film that I would recommend to anyone. If you want to truly spiral into terror and insanity and spill your popcorn all over the place, this is the movie for you.

I think what I love most about this movie is that it keeps on taking you where you do not expect it to go. It's really not a genre bender, but I swear, even the second time I watched it I was so impressed and delighted with the twists and turns it takes. This movie constantly keeps you on the edge of your seat as its horrible reality unfurls.

We start with the Graham family, currently faced with the loss of Annie's mysterious mother, Ellen. Though grief-struck, we come to realize that it is not at the loss of the old woman but at something deeper and perhaps long gone. In fact, the only person who seems truly upset with Ellen's passing is young Charlie, a seeming outcast who is often silent save for her habitual tongue click. Her fixation with building toys and models with mismatched heads feels somehow disturbing but pales in comparison to her mother's works: Annie is an artist renowned for her work crafting miniatures, impeccably created scenes from her past and present all on display in smaller scale in her workshop. Her art should be for the world to see, but with an upcoming exhibition looming on Annie's mind and feeling ever more unlikely, the miniatures instead become for Annie alone. They provide what she calls "a neutral view," but we come to learn that these fastidiously-made models are a way for Annie to reflect on her own choices and memories and control everything therein.

Despite their troubles, the family maintains a semblance of normality until another freak accident spins everything out of control. More on that after the Spoiler jump.

The acting in this film is fantastic. There is something sinister about Collette throughout the movie that makes you question her at every turn, even when it feels like she is the only person so desperately trying to keep her family from falling apart. The movie provides beautiful commentary on grief, mental illness, and family, especially between children and their parents. It forces us to ask what is the meaning (or purpose) of family? What do we inherit aside from names and traditions? What things do we carry with and inside of us, even if we would rather not? I'm definitely on the bandwagon that Collette was snubbed for major award recognition because her performance here is wide-ranging and superb and should go down as a classic in the horror genre. I was equally impressed by young Alex Wolff, a former child star on Nickelodeon and now a budding actor and director. The role of Peter is crucial to the film and Wolff portrays the reserved, greasy-haired, pot-smoking teen so naturally. I thought it was especially wonderful how vulnerable Peter was, and the scenes were he is clearly terrified or left crying really stuck with me. Ann Dowd was also a treat, and I thought her voice was really perfect for her role and the lines she has in the movie.

Furthermore, the cinematography is beautiful. The shots in and around the Grahams' home were fantastic, as were the many scenes taking place in and around cars: I especially liked the use of the rearview mirrors. There is also the terrific use of the color red: From heat lamps to break lights to bloody eyes, there is something haunting and demonic about it. Toward the end of the film, we are treated to some really spectacular camera work as an unsteady, wavering camera follows characters around the dark house. The movie plays with the concept of Annie's miniatures vs. real life and several times we're not sure if what we're looking at is real or an imitation— or if it matters either way. Is this Annie's perspective and can we trust it? Or are the lofty, overhead shots supposed to be from God's eye (or something else floating above)? Lastly, the film has some delightfully unexpected transitions, such as when day suddenly turns to night in the same frame or when ominous bodies and figures are teased just in or just out of focus.

I also thought the movie had great music, most of all the stunning orchestrations in the final sequence, and a lot of the soundtrack reminded me of The VVitch, which is also distributed by A24, one of my favorite production companies of the moment both for horror and other genres. I'm currently counting down the days until Ari Aster's next movie (also with A24), Midsommar.

*SPOILER ALERT*

I love how quickly things start to fall apart for the characters in this movie, and with most of the action concentrated in the first and third acts, plus plenty of scares and drama when you least expect it, you're pretty captivated for the entire thing. We have the classic case of an unreliable narrator potentially slipping into madness, which means we're never quite sure who or what to believe as events start to spiral out of control. We learn early on that Annie's family has a history of severe mental illness, especially disorders with high rates of heritability such as schizophrenia or depression. There is horror in the film long before the thrilling end, and that is in the death of the family unit. As the Grahams continue to fall apart, evil continues to gain a stronger hold. I thought one of the saddest moments of the film was when a manic Annie tries comforting Peter by acknowledging that something terrible is happening, reassuring her terrified son and saying "I'm the only one who can fix this." At this point, we already don't believe her. But is mental health really any explanation for what's happening here, or is it something more supernatural entirely?

I adore this movie. If you pay close enough attention, you'll realize that something is off from the earliest scenes, perhaps starting with the man at Ellen's funeral smiling so intently at Charlie. I loved how these unnerving and suspenseful moments grew in frequency and scale throughout the movie, ultimately leading to the climax of the cult moving in on the Graham household. Shots with ominous figures just in range but still obscured are some of my favorite in horror, and this movie starts with single figures before giving us that incredible shot of dozens of naked bodies surrounding the house. I think the disturbing use of naked bodies in horror is incredibly effective, especially if done the way this movie or It Follows does it. We're so used to the hypersexualization of bodies in horror that their unwanted appearance perverts the entire process and makes already-scary scenes all the more frightening.

Other details I loved in this movie were the awesome seance scenes and the unforgettable finale with Toni Collette lingering in the shadows of the ceiling. I'm always into a classroom scene that mirrors the plot (à la Halloween), and we get several of them in this movie if you know to pay attention to them. At one point we can read "Punishment brings wisdom" on the blackboard in Peter's classroom, and we also hear a teacher explaining that a character's "murder was commanded by the gods." Little does Peter know while zoning out in class and staring at his crush's butt that he, too, is involved in a much larger and sinister plot with otherworldly beings taking control. I thought the tongue click may have been the single most ingenious thing this movie did (who knew how scary it sounded?), and I love that something as simple as a nut allergy was enough to take down a demon, or at least his weak human form. The car scene with the two kids in the middle of nowhere is just such a treat, because it breaks my number one cardinal rule and takes you so by surprise you almost can't believe it's really happening. Though I find it hard to believe that even a traumatized teen would be able to simply drive away and go to bed without telling his parents, Collette's reaction to this untimely (and familiar) loss is fantastic. As the story comes together, it makes sense why Annie described it as feeling like she "gave up" Charlie to her mother (never let grandma breastfeed the kids), or why her brother committed suicide and blamed his decision on his mother for "putting people inside" of him. It's no surprise that in the West, the medical model is preferred over supernatural explanations, and mental disorders are diagnosed in cases that other cultures might attribute to spiritual causes. Hereditary shares that theme with The Exorcist, not to mention the whole possession of innocent children by demon kings of the west.

The ending of the film is one of the most memorable things to happen to horror in recent years, and I truly hope the movie goes down in horror halls of fame far outside of Horror Buff's own blog.

Final critique: This movie is a treat and I would recommend it to anybody, but I would warn them that they are really in for a wild and scary ride. Hereditary takes twists and turns unlike we've seen in a long time, and it masterfully mixes classic horror themes and tropes with new and refreshing characters and situations. Hats off to Ari Aster on this screenplay; this is the kind of horror movie that can redeem the entire genre for mainstream audiences. I look forward to rewatching this time and again.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Us (2019)

So it's been almost 3.5 years, what can I say?

GENERAL INFO:
Director: Jordan Peele
Studios: Blumhouse Productions, Monkeypaw Productions, Universal Pictures
Starring: Lupita Nyong'o, Elisabeth Moss, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex
Tagline: Watch Yourself.
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: horror, psychological thriller, home invasion, family drama, conspiracy, suspense
Scare score: C-
Rating: A-


Plot overview: As a young girl (Madison Curry), Adelaide (Nyong'o) encounters a frightening double of herself in a boardwalk house of mirrors. Years later and now with two young children of her own (Wright Joseph, Alex), Adelaide still can't shake the fear of her lingering shadow. She is forced to take a good look at herself after a family clad in red jumpsuits and armed with scissors shows up in the middle of the night.

I stand by my feelings that Get Out changed the horror game and breathed new life into our favorite genre, which I feel has grown more popular in recent years for a few reasons. First, I think we are experiencing a generation of writers and directors/producers who grew up during a beautiful age of horror movies (the '80s) and are now bringing their own dreams to life, filled with nods to the past. Secondly, I think Hollywood is more comfortable with the idea of well-made and even niche horror movies with a message, not just the sensual slashers that plagued (and pleasured) us in the 2000s, and not to mention there are more small studios who can work to take on these projects. Finally—and I have to look into statistics or data on this—but I feel that more audiences want and enjoy horror today, if only because for many people, the real world at present is even more horrible than what they're seeing onscreen.

That being said, don't go into Us expecting it to be the next Get Out. They are different films made for different purposes, and in many aspects I felt they have some different messages to share. Now back to the film at hand.

Us is a freaky, fun, and dynamic movie that plays first and foremost with the themes of division, duplicity, and the doppelgänger. As teased by the movie poster, the viewer should know to go into the film expecting us to "watch ourselves," or know that "we are our own worst enemy" while questioning what lies beneath. As many famous horror movies allow the killer to take on a new identity while masked, so Us forces us to think about what masks we wear on a daily basis to get ahead, to thrive, or merely to survive. The first foil we encounter is between the Wilsons—Adelaide's family—and their friends the Tylers. Headed by "it's vodka o'clock" wife Kitty (Moss) and one-upping husband Josh (Tim Heidecker), the Tylers and their bratty twin daughters are everything their respective Wilson counterparts are not: proud, overly talkative, selfish, and entitled. These families ultimately represent a larger message in the film that Peele tries to make with a Biblical subtext: It doesn't matter who you are, what you look like, or what you have, because when the oppressed masses rise up, we'll all be subjected to the same fate. 

This looming thought is introduced several times via the local doomsday man beckoning a sign saying "Jeremiah 11:11." If you don't have your pocket Bible handy during the movie, you'll have to wait until the end to know that this passage reads "Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them." But what evil could this possibly mean? We'll explore after the Spoilers jump.

For those of you who don't want anything spoiled, I will say that I enjoyed this film. The scares were underwhelming but Peele in his own right has become wonderfully adept at suspense flavored either with humor or very human fear. As in Get Out, the audience and characters alike discover absurdity in the most terrifying moments, and while this trick helps treat the viewer as more intelligent than the plethora of on-the-nose horror films of the past (and present), it makes things no less horrifying for everyone involved. Again, this is likely part of Peele's commentary on our world today, where things feel topsy turvy and equally terrible.

I thought Lupita Nyong'o and Elisabeth Moss were brilliant in this film—Moss as her doppelgänger specifically has a memorable silent scream we see via a reflection. Winston Duke as Adelaide's husband Gabe adds a charming levity to the movie and both Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex as their children do incredible jobs. Nyong'o especially explores her duality of light and dark, smooth and jagged, evil and not in a performance that deserves major award recognition. The casting for this film was excellent, especially because of the task that was asked of each actor. The cinematography was also gorgeous, with the many and varied scenes of public and private spaces, light and dark, above and below inviting us in to a visual feast. I'm still dreaming about the house of mirrors and that escalator. No surprise that this was the handiwork of Mike Gioulakis, who brought us It Follows, one of my favorite horror movies of all time that I still haven't blogged about because I took a casual 3.5-year hiatus.

References to some of our other horror favorites abounded, including nods to The Twilight Zone, The Shining, and I think especially to The Strangers, to name a few. I even loved how this was pitched as "a new nightmare" à la Wes Craven but now from Jordan Peele. From the opening overhead view (God's eye?) akin to Kubrick's famous opening credits, to the concept of twins to the tight interior angles, The Shining was the film most referenced as helping inspire Peele for his second major horror picture, so I was surprised to see just how much time was spent feeling like your standard home invasion.

*SPOILER ALERT*

I didn't know what to expect going into the theater. Trailers certainly teased the concept of the dark doppelgänger, but this film packed much more into its 116-minute run time. In fact, I think the movie's biggest fault is that it packed too much into its ambitious plot.

I am obsessed with the '80s and also with amusement parks in movies (The Lost Boys, Strangers on a Train, even Teen Witch, to name a few), so I found many scenes from this movie practically magical, especially when Adelaide discovers the underground world beneath the boardwalk. The '80s kitsch was also so good, especially with the Hands Across America plot, because Peele uses it to provide commentary on the parallels between the Regan '80s and our current world: There is a sense of hollowness or superficiality that makes even kind or humanitarian gestures seem fake. Here again we see our theme of duplicity: public and private faces, doublespeak and hidden messages, behavior vs. intent. Who are we really? How do you categorize between "good" and "evil" when some people are just trying to survive? And will we pay for it all?

I was not expecting the eerie (and slightly irrelevant?) opening title message about vast unused tunnels under the United States, which immediately threw me for a curveball upon seeing the movie. As it turns out, this would become one of many aspects the movie included to feel spookier, but that I feel didn't fully pan out. At the end of the day, I really enjoyed this movie, but the myth it wanted us to buy into was too big and too vague for me to feel totally comfortable with it. Sure, most horror movies are based on ridiculous plots, and even Get Out was *impossible*, but there was something about the idea that some government (?) agency cloned us all and forced our Tethered doubles to mimic our every moves in their subterranean classrooms and hallways all while feasting on raw rabbit. I enjoyed the concept of the "puppet masters" and the "puppets," mostly for how this complements the theme of doubles, and even though I found myself adoring the scene where Red explains this all to Adelaide, it was just too much. Regarding the Tethered doppelgängers, I loved their sort of nonspeak (except for Heidecker, who I thought went overboard with the sounds/ was too comically animated more so than the others), and I think that raspy, breathing-in-to-talk choice was really effective.

As far as the twist ending goes, I wish I could say I saw it coming but I didn't until closer to the end. There were times during the film—especially as we see Adelaide embrace the violence and become more animalistic, even through her son's eyes—when I wondered if she had somehow been swapped without us knowing, but of course it was all much more sinister than that. I would love to rewatch the film knowing what I know now in order to pick up on all of those delicious clues. I think it would have cued me in sooner to the concept of the secrets we keep, the truths we ignore, and the masks we wear to live the lives we think we are supposed to live or that we think we deserve to live, even at the expense—whether we know about it or not—of many other people. Are we innocent of the suffering of these Others, who in many ways are just like Us? Or are we guilty, even if we are unaware of their existence in a Sunken Place of sorts, of all that we did not do to right these wrongs? And furthermore, what price to we pay to rise out of those dark places and join the happy majority above ground? I viewed this transition as the "invitation to whiteness" so prominent in the United States by which many peoples and cultures that were once considered minorities were invited to join the white group in power (think women, the Irish, Italians). Some people, such as dark-skinned black Americans, may never be formally invited to join this group, but over time, the decreasing white group realizes its power is slipping and thus invites another marginalized group to rise either to real or imagined power. And of course, many formerly-non-power individuals jump at this opportunity to live out their own American Dream— but at what price? This is the fear 'Adelaide' lives in constantly, knowing that she has abandoned her people beneath the ground to advance only herself, and it provides major commentary about what it's like to alternate between power and non-power groups in the United States. Ultimately it's the real Adelaide-turned-Red who teaches the other Tethereds what it means to have true agency and to have to truly fight, unite, and join hands to make a statement that the world will finally listen to. It's a revolution, and it's no coincidence that Adelaide knew what she was missing from the world above in order to stay determined, inspire the other Tethereds (via "the dance"), and ultimately fight back and educate/moralize the 'Adelaide' we know on the concepts of reparations, revenge, and justice.

All in all, I think the most impressive thing about this movie was the challenge handed to the actors who all had to play two versions of themselves. This added such a richness to the film and at many points I found myself questioning if they truly had found other actors to play these roles. Nyong'o especially delivered in her two roles, and that final fight/dance scene was absolutely stunning. Her physicality throughout the film as both characters was excellent.

Final critique: I enjoyed this film, but I find myself describing it to others as "freaky" and not scary. I didn't feel disappointed at the end, but I do think it was ambitious to the point of feeling a little unfinished or hazy around the edges. Still, the plot was fresh and fun, and the commentary on the oppressed masses rising up is Peele's clearest commentary reminding us that, especially in today's world, we are our own worst enemy.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Shining (1980)

GENERAL INFO:
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Studios: Peregrine Productions, Producers Circle
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall
Tagline: A Masterpiece of Modern Horror
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: horror, psychological thriller, ghosts, haunting, possession, family drama
Scare score: B+
Rating: A-



While buckling down for the possible tornadoes last weekend, my cousin, her roommate, and I took advantage of the gloomy weather and overall creepy atmosphere to watch this gem.  I accepted the opportunity graciously, as it is rare for me to find friends who will sit through a horror movie.

Plot overview: Recovering alcoholic Jack Torrance (Nicholson) moves his wife, Wendy (Duvall), and son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), to the remote Overlook Hotel after being hired as the caretaker of the building and grounds while they are closed during the winter season.  We already know Danny has an "imaginary friend"/ psychic power that he does not fully understand; he believes the Overlook to house evil spirits.  As complete isolation and cabin fever begin setting in, Jack begins to hallucinate, seeing ghosts around the hotel.  He also begins to drink again, quickly turning into an unstable and violent alcoholic.  After Danny is hurt by a ghost (Room 237=scary), Wendy thinks that Jack has become abusive and/or they are not alone in the massive hotel.  This accusation causes Jack to finally crack, and he sets out to kill his family.  Cue all the evil spirits in the hotel breaking lose, elevators full of blood, dining rooms full of corpses, and the ever-iconic "Heeeeeeere's Johnny!" scene.

Fun facts: The term "shining" refers to the psychic ability that Danny posses to see into the future and communicate with other 'shiners' without speaking.  He learns about it from the hotel's head chef, who comes back to try and help the family after sensing Danny's calls for help.
King chose 217 as the evil room because he and his wife were staying in room 217 at the hotel that helped him create the idea for The Shining.  In the movie, this was changed to 237.

Adapted, of course, from the novel of the same name by the untouchable Stephen King, I think The Shining has become much more successful than anyone could have predicted at the time.  I did some research on this classic a few months ago, and from what I understand, Kubrick was so meticulous in his filming that it even caused Shelley Duvall to become physically ill and lose some hair!  Talk about scary.  Still, there's something to be said about all the fine details, which do add a great deal to this film which, in my opinion, moves rather slowly until all the events begin to culminate towards the end.

One of my favorite small details in the film, which I think really helps set in the nail-biting suspense, comes from all the scenes of Danny riding his trike around the hotel.  The change from the silence of the wheels on carpet to the sudden lull of the wheels on the hardwood is pretty unnerving.  Also, Danny's little-voice-inside-his-mouth-friend, Tony, is really frightening, and causes us to examine the line between cute imaginary friends from childhood and more real, psychological problems - or in Danny's case, a psychic power.  For a young, new child actor, Lloyd does an awesome job.  I almost forgot to mention how scary the changes between "chapters" at the beginning of the movie are.  Up until cabin fever starts setting in, the movie moves relatively slowly, but each time they change from, say, "The Job Interview" to the next section, there is a terrifying crash of music.  The suspense is really building up the whole movie.

I have always loved Shelley Duvall.  While I don't think she's ugly, she certainly has very creepy aspects about her demeanor that add a lot to her character even before her husband goes crazy.  She has a perfect face- wide eyes, spaced-out-teeth, pale skin, dark hair- when she has to act terrified.  Her voice is also pretty creepy: innocent and almost annoying with a high pitch and slight southern/midwestern twang, and there is certainly something slightly off about it.

Jack Nicholson is brilliant in this role.  He is so creepy looking, and the late 70's attire, lower middle class in a Colorado winter look does a lot.  I think one of the scariest scenes is when he is zoning out at his typewriter, with his chin down at his chest, his mouth hanging open, and his eyes fixed upward, out of his skull.  His quick temper is rather frightening and all-too-human up until the point we understand that he seems to be possessed.  He becomes, in his murderous state, a brute, masculine force, representing abuse and rage, that has to scare us as we watch him run around the hotel with an axe.

Final critique: Overall, this is a must-see horror movie.  The psychological aspect should be what gets us the most.  The ghosts are very scary and the makeup helps with that.  The two twins are terrifying even before we see the image of them covered in blood with an axe in their head.  The young/old woman evil spirit in Room 237 turns out to be so foul: just as Jack thinks he's about to get some it's revealed how she is actually a corpse with wet, rotting flesh *grossest scene in the film*.  The Overlook is just as important a character as any Torrance family member.  Her ugly, 70's decor; long, seemingly endless corridors; restricting and claustrophobic bedroom scenes; twisting kitchen and boiler room; and even wide open main spaces- the general emptiness of it all, is certainly an aspect we take away with us after seeing the movie.  Bound to give you nightmares, or you will otherwise find yourself thinking of the ghosts next time you're in a ski lodge, hotel, or home alone.  Definitely recommended for all horror movie watchers; those who scare easily should be able to handle this film if aptly warned before any scary scenes.

And, of course, who could forget that very last scene and all the questions it provokes?