As I consider myself to be a student of both Stanley Kubrick and the horror genre of films, The Shining stands as one of my favorite movies.
Although it was largely unloved upon its original release, The Shining quickly scaled the heights of fandom to become recognized as one of "the scariest movies of all time." I personally don't find the movie to be all that scary, but I do think the cumulative effect is spooky, somewhat unsettling. What I respond to the most are those Kubrickian hallmarks: the glacial pacing, those slow-tracking dolly shots, the cold and somewhat detached performances from the actors, the sometimes jarring score. All of these elements mix nicely with a the traditional elements of horror to produce a unique film that only grows richer with each viewing.
So, imagine my eager anticipation when I first read about Room 237, a documentary about other fans of The Shining who had watched it so much that they'd developed conspiracy theories about the hidden meanings of the movie.
Sure, we've all read about the nuts who think Kubrick shot the footage of the faked moon landing, and how he'd left winking clues in his subsequent films. But the ideas of The Shining being an allegory of the Holocaust, or of the plight of the American Indian, these were new ideas to me.
So, I waited. I was hoping it would screen locally, but that day never came. I was willing to rent it, or travel to see it, or buy it outright. I scoured torrents. But I just couldn't find it.
Then the announcement came that IFC would be distributing the doc On Demand, and so the countdown began.
I decided that we'd hold a movie night, where we'd watch The Shining, followed by the documentary. And so, after many false starts and some calendar juggling, we finally made that happen this weekend.
The Shining is still The Shining. It's still slow and a little silly, but how could you not love it? Has Jack Nicholson ever been more Jack Nicholson-y? Has Kubrick ever been more Kubrickian? It's just such a gorgeously shot and hypnotically cut movie, watching it, it's easy to see why folks who are inclined to search for patterns where patterns may not actually exist could be sucked into their own headspace by this movie. It's a really great one.
Then came Room 237.
I had been warned by a couple of friends that I would be disappointed, that the documentary wasn't very good. However, I'd read just as many accolades raving that it was a great, great film. Crap, go look at that beautiful poster again. If you loved The Shining, and you also loved crazy people, you'd be pretty stoked by that poster, right? Critics seemed to love this movie.
So, I went into the screening hopeful that perhaps my friends were just being a little harsh (which is usually my job).
I found, instead, that they'd been too kind.
Room 237 is very, very, very poorly made. Like, amateur level production. If this is the state of acclaimed modern documentaries, I'm going to start shooting some on my iPhone.
Don't get me wrong. Room 237 delivers on the promise of arguably crazy people offering up far-fetched theories on the hidden messages of The Shining. Some of these accounts are a snooze. Some of them are compelling. Not so compelling that I'd actually start to believe any of them for a second, mind you, but still, compelling.
But where Room 237 fails is in a basic film-making competency. And in that respect, it fails on every level.
The decision was made to not show the speakers, but to only hear them in voice over. Fine, I have no problem with that in and of itself as a device. But since we aren't seeing the speakers, we are instead shown a barrage of film clips. And not just clips of The Shining, mind you. Or even just clips of other Kubrick films, used to enforce the claims.
No, instead we are assaulted by a litany of completely unrelated film clips from movies that have absolutely no connection to The Shining, Stanley Kubrick, or the theories being presented. No connection whatsoever.
And what's worse, we are shown several of the same clips REPEATEDLY. AND OFTEN IN SLO-MO. And I don't even mean, like, real slo-mo, but instead, what looks more like the "manual tracking" feature on an old 6-head VCR. It is relentless, it is endless, it is insufferable, IT MAKES NO SENSE. WHY???
This itself may have been forgivable if the audio accounts of the theorists had been up to snuff, but instead the recordings are also an amateur affair. Some of them have very poor audio fidelity, sodden with distortion that is often distractingly bad. Others suffer from a complete lack of editing, as background noises, children wandering into the conversation, etc. are left fully intact. This does not make for a compelling movie experience. It's just annoying.
If you love The Shining, and you love conspiracy theories, part of me would say sure, give this a shot. But there's another part that would advise you to skip Room 237 altogether and just read some wikis about these wacky theories. The stories you conjure in your brain will be far more well constructed than this flick. Bah.