Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is a struggling writer who takes a job as caretaker at the massive Overlook Hotel, and temporarily moves his well-meaning but annoying wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and troubled young son Danny (Danny Lloyd) there for the winter closing season. It doesn't take long for Jack to go over the edge; his already unstable mental make-up mixing with the cold, isolation and overall bad aura of the hotel's sordid past, eventually drive him to head after his loved ones with an axe. The title refers to the son's psychic abilities, and Kubrick's creepy, surrealist touches of the boy's disturbing visions (blood gushing from the elevators, those creepy twin sisters...) are unsettling highlights of the film. The camerawork and photography are both exceptional, including some memorably eerie aerial photography (though you can see the shadow of a helicopter several times), and the hotel interiors (actually all sets) and an intricate hedge maze outside are both pretty amazing.
Still, I don't think this movie is quite the masterpiece some others do. Diehard fans have fun analyzing every last detail of it, trying to find patterns in numbers and matching them to the film's run-time, working out all the enigmatic imagery in their heads, trying to decide just why Jack's image can be seen in a photograph dated 1921 at the film's end, etc. I've seen people claim the film is about Satan or selling one's soul to the devil. I've read it's about the apocalypse. I've read it's about an evil place exerting control over the weak and emotionally frail. I've read it's about ghosts, possession and/or just plaing old going bonkers. But you'll have that kind of treatment awarded a director as acclaimed as Kubrick. Some people may want to see more than what is actually there, or more than what was intended. Taking this film at face value is another story altogether. Kubrick doesn't manage to sustain the eerie atmospherics for the entire length of the film, which goes on for a grueling 2 1/2 hours, and it gets rather repetitive at times. The end is basically a mess. And most distressingly, he seems out of touch with his actors. Duvall's Wendy ("Hi hun!") is so weak, irritating and stupid you pray she gets an axe planted in her skull. Of course this could be intentional (though behind-the-scenes footage seems to tell a different tale), but I'd be lying if I didn't say that she still got on my last damn nerve. Nicholson's Jack, at first, is brilliantly malicious with his creepy facial expressions, but then goes way over the top and delivers a sorely inappropriate camp performance in service of a character we don't get to know very well, anyway.
Toward the end, there are moments that will leave most viewers scratching their heads. Jack eventually comes into contact with ghosts in the hotel's ballroom. Or does he? Both Jack and Danny come into contact with a ghostly woman in one of the rooms, who transforms from a beautiful young woman to an old withered hag. OK, so one is crazy and the other is psychic, so I guess that could happen... But then at the end, Wendy even starts seeing things that shouldn't be there, such as a guy in a animal costume (?) "servicing" another guy. Since she's neither bonkers or gifted with ESP, I guess that means the hotel is haunted, right? And so then Jack is possessed? Or maybe Wendy's temporary hysteria over her husband trying to kill her is making her envision all this, too? Hell if I know. In film, there is reasonable ambiguity that invites us to use our imaginations, and then there's being weird and random for the sake of being weird and random. I'm not sure what this qualifies as..
Based on the best-seller by Stephen King. Many things have been changed from the book and King himself didn't like the finished product. The supporting cast includes Scatman Crothers (as a man who works at the hotel and shares Danny's gift), Barry Nelson, Philip Stone, Joe Turkel, Anne Nelson and Tony Burton. It was remade for TV in 1997..