Friday, July 16, 2021

"The Shining" Revisited

What is it about the Overlook Hotel that casts such an ominous cloud? How do the mysterious, inexplicable events surrounding a small and isolated family affect the terror they inflict on one another? These are just two of the broad questions hovering over a long mystery in “The Shining,” a movie of ageless dexterity that also remains one of the more fascinating case studies in academic film analysis. When it arrived in theaters over four decades ago, the conventional wisdom at the time had been swift and dismissive: the exacting hand of one Stanley Kubrick had lost sight of a cogent vision, supplementing the famous source material by Stephen King with so much surrealistic ambiguity and nonsense that he had released a labyrinthian mess instead of a probing psychological essay. But much like his own “A Clockwork Orange” and “2001: A Space Odyssey,” time has offered a generous reassessment, and now the picture is usually seen hovering towards the top of most lists of the greatest horror movies ever made. When I first encountered it at the age of 15, my admiration for its technical skill and tone were undermined by an inability to decipher the clues. What was happening to the Torrance family? Were they being haunted by ghosts, pitted against one another by elaborate mind games? Would they have been seen if the young boy at the center of the action were not clairvoyant? Or were they simply imagined by people whose sanity had been compromised by isolation? Over 20 years and dozens of viewings later, I can finally speak with confidence on some of the great paradoxes the story weaves.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Willy's Wonderland / * (2021)

Consider the fascinating dichotomy of this idea. A series of mysterious fatal accidents have closed the doors of a small-town children’s restaurant featuring those clunky animatronic characters that you usually see in Chuck E. Cheese establishments, and years later the residents of said town still harbor enough resentment against the building that they take to vandalizing the property, sometimes even trying to set fire to it. Within those walls, they say, are the remains of a terrible legacy. Then one day, when a mysterious hot-rod enthusiast crashes his car on a road just outside the city, his lack of money leads to a dubious offer: if he will clean up the interiors of the abandoned facility while locked inside for one whole night, his car will be fixed and ready to drive off by morning. Of course, that means his agreement will lead to the discovery of negative energies permeating throughout the dark halls and musty dining rooms, once the setting of events that imply the creepy-looking animatronics are far more than just stuffing and wires. In some circles this is the same sort of irony that led to our festering fear of clowns, also once seen as an innocent facet of childhood entertainment. And perhaps there is a lot of fun to be had with that setup, especially for those who indulge in the irreverent possibilities of the material. But the new film “Willy’s Wonderland” is an even stranger offense: a vehicle that takes those risks and robs them of all possible tension and enthusiasm. For 89 minutes, we watch on helplessly as eager people show up in front of a camera and slog their way through material that could not be any more listless if it had been written by zombies.