The aim to bring out physical reactions of

The horror film genreThrough the last thirty years, the horror genre has experienced many changes and an abundance of subgenres have been created. There is no simple definition of the horror film, but we can better understand the main objective of the genre, but according to Linda Williams’ it should aim to bring out physical reactions of viewers. A horror film, as versatile as it may be, should always remind us that the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. Most films that fall into this genre do follow this definition, but there are a few that stray away from it. One example is the 1980, ‘horror film’, The Shining, directed by Stanley Kubrick.Stanley Kubrick, alongside co-writer and novelist Diane Johnson wanted to drift away from the actual story portrayed in Stephen King’s novel The Shining which the film was based upon. Literary adaptations are a demanding task since not all information and meaning of the book can be put into film. This task, however, didn’t seem too difficult for Kubrick and Johnson. They had a vision of their own. And it was to tell a simple story – one of a vexed unsuccessful writer slowly going insane in a remote hotel, ultimately trying to kill his family. But the story is by no means in the center of the film. It’s the visual and auditory elements that make the film as creepy as the book. In other words, Kubrick managed to retell King’s novel by taking on a very different approach to the story, yet achieving the same effect on the audience as the book had on the readers.The setting and cameraworkOne particular aspect of this film, that takes captivates the audience, is the setting. Already in the first opening scenes of The Shining we are greeted with a beautiful, vast and captivating scenery of the Saint Mary Lake in Montana. The enormous space that engulfs the car in the first shots perfectly achieves the feeling of isolation, which goes on to be the main motif in the film’s plot.The film’s Overlook hotel, which is the main and almost only setting in the film, was shot on two locations. The exterior was filmed at the Timberline Lodge in Oregon, while the interior was shot in a studio in London. The set was designed by production designer Roy Walker and to this day remains the biggest indoor set ever built. The hotel’s look was primarily inspired by the Ahwahnee in Yosemite National Park, which was not the same location that inspired Stephen King for his novel. The novel was inspired by the Stanley Hotel in Colorado. The hotel has some of the somber, grim atmosphere and was an adequate location for a horror film. However, one of the main reasons why Kubrick decided not to use the hotel’s interior (or exterior) was his different motivations and visions. The interior, although daunting, wasn’t spacious enough for what Kubrick had in mind; and the studio in London seemed much more convenient.It is obvious that Kubrick made the setting a key element. In most horror films the location is obviously quite important, however, when that’s the case, the surroundings interact with the characters in some way that causes them “physical” damage. Here, the surroundings couldn’t be more passive. There’s almost no other film where the setting is so monotonous and yet breathes such evil, without actually doing anything to the characters directly. The vast halls, and the gigantic and high rooms don’t seem threatening at all, and the decoration seems rather inviting. What makes this place so scary is the emptiness and the feeling of isolation that brings out the primal sense of fear of loneliness. The set design was truly well thought out, but what made it come to life on the big screen was the impressive work of cinematographers John Alcott and Garrett Brown, as well as director Stanley Kubrick. They strived to use cinematographic techniques to leave an impact on the audience in a unique way. Kubrick wanted to make this film as scary as King’s novel, but he wanted to do it by neglecting the story and focusing more on other filming elements.The camerawork definitely contributed to the tense atmosphere of the film. Nearly the entire film was shot with an extremely wide-angle 18mm lens which made the spaces appear quite large. The set was spacious enough on its own, but using this type of lens made the spaces look even more gigantic and overpowering. This also helped emphasize the hotel’s dominance over the characters who were often completely engulfed in the rooms. Another important device used in the film was the Steadicam. It was a mount which helped with stabilizing the operator’s movement on difficult terrain. This allowed for smooth tracking shots in scenes where Danny is riding his tricycle through the hotel’s halls or Jack’s chasing Danny in the maze. The SuspenseSuspense is undoubtedly one of the critical elements in a good horror film. It achieves viewer engagement and enjoyment. Most horror films create suspense by starting the film as if it were anything but a horror film, oftentimes achieved by introducing calm and serene scenes that put characters seemingly in nonthreatening situations, so the audience assumes nothing bad could happen to them. What makes The Shining differ from conventional horror films is that it indicates the dangers are about to come early on. And although it’s specified that something terrible is going to happen, the suspense is still there, and we are still caught by surprise. It’s because we know what is supposed to happen, but we do not know when. Other horror films tend to introduce a sudden change in atmosphere or a disturbing scene to surprise the audience and to make it clear that a scary scene is lurking behind the corner. This film, however, keeps the tension throughout the whole film. Even when there shouldn’t be anything to fear, Kubrick makes sure that it kept the audience on its toes at all times. Kubrick also toys with creating suspense by making the characters notice something before it’s revealed to the audience. Using ambiguity, the audience gets to experience the intense reactions of the characters before they see what the characters are reacting to. This differs quite a lot from the traditional horror films where the audience experiences the scares at the same time as the character. However, Kubrick’s take on this ultimately creates more intense moments in already intense scenes.Triggering our primal reaction is what this film exceeds at. It is strange and unpredictable, and repeatedly stimulated these leaving the suspense always hanging mid-air.The MusicThe most unsettling and creepy element of this film is the music. Kubrick selected most of the soundtracks for this film, while music editor Gordon Stainforth was largely responsible for incorporating the auditory pieces into the visual. In almost every scene there are eerie sounds in the background that intermittently intensify, even when unnecessary, just to keep the audience in suspense. Some of the original music tracks were composed by using an analog synthesizer keyboard to create unnatural and disturbingly unsettling sounds. Works by Bartók, Penderecki and Ligeti were used to accompany the frantic and horrific scenes in the film. Surprisingly enough, these pieces of music were never intended to be associated with horror, let alone serve as a soundtrack in a horror film. Nevertheless, shrieking strings and discordant bellows have remained a common sound choice in many films following The Shining. Natural occurring sounds were primarily used, as highlighted by cinematographer G. Brown: “The soundtrack explodes with noise when the wheel {on Danny’s tricycle} is on wooden flooring and is abruptly silent as it crosses over carpet.” Almost all horror films rely on music in jump scare scenes to indicate threat or imminent danger. Still, Kubrick wanted the music to be more than just an entourage to the scenes. The main purpose of the music and sound effects was to signal the audience to constantly be on guard. The music clearly indicated threat and danger (as it would in other horror films), but here it also created extreme suspense where the audience would expect it least. It is unsettling and unpredictable, at times even startling when nothing has happened, and sometimes unresponsive despite visual changes. Scenes that are seemingly ‘peaceful’ still make the audience quite uncomfortable just by listening to the music. Finally, the music served as a great replacement for Kubrick’s lacking narrative in the film.ConclusionKubrick clearly demonstrates how great filmmaking can activate our primal fears by telling a deceptively simple story. He managed to take on a different approach on a popular horror story and result with the same effect. Kubrick and Johnson kept to the core of the story while playing with the art of filmmaking and pushing some elements – like music and suspense – to the limit, to prove that any simple story, if aptly combined with other film elements, can create an intense viewing experience. After all, the story is quite simple, but the film is far from it. When asked about the film’s plot, Kubrick had little to say about it as well: „It’s just the story of one man’s family quietly going insane together. “


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