Review: Room 237

In Cinemas Now

Directed by Rodney Ascher

Five fans discuss the hidden meanings in The Shining

Film appreciation is a wonderful thing, and it comes in many forms from the academic to the fanatic and all points in between. Starting life as an internet project, Rodney Ascher’s clever and hypnotic documentary gives free range to five fans of The Shining to explore their theories about the hidden meanings in the film.

The Shining has always been one of those movies open to multiple interpretation, exacerbated by Kubrick’s enigmatic final shot of Jack Nicholson at a 1921 party in the haunted Overlook hotel. It pays repeated viewings, as the strangeness of the hotel and the events that take place grows ever weirder…

However, did you realise that what you thought was just a scary movie was really about the massacre of the American Indians? Or a confession from Kubrick of his role in faking the moon landing footage? Or that the geography of the Overlook hotel makes no sense whatsoever? These and several other theories and questions are aired in this inventive documentary.

The film consists of the five voiceovers over a mash-up of various film clips, many from The Shining (and the TV mini-series remake), but many others from a whole range of films, that illustrate (and sometimes wittily comment on the points being made, as in the clips of a deranged Stephen King from Creepshow). This style allows viewers to both play a game (guess the film!) and to be lulled into a hypnotic trance as the images wash over them.

The theories are by turns intriguing, laughable and genuinely amusing, but they are all put forward by reasonable people (a TV journalist, a history professor) in a self-aware manner. Some of them amplify obvious continuity errors (a vanishing chair) into major conspiracy theories, but others do capture the imagination. Just what role does the hotel manager’s sullen sidekick Bill Watson play? However, by the time they get to viewing the film superimposed over itself, one version running in reverse, you begin to realise that reason has left the room.

So, film appreciation is a wonderful thing, so are fans and fandom, but obsession to the exclusion of all else may be dangerous. Room 237 doesn’t go that far, though. It is a film about the magic of film, the effect it can have on the viewer, and the ineffable mysteries of cinema.

Verdict: Both amusing and intriguing, Room 237 shines some light on a classic horror movie, 8/10

Brian J. Robb


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