Directed by Rodney Ascher
Something awful awaits in Room 237, and it’s not that rotting giggling granny. Rodney Ascher’s misguided documentary on hidden meanings in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) builds its own labyrinths of irrelevant speculation and loses itself in them. Kubrick was famously a highly careful filmmaker, and his work lends itself to in-depth analysis—but listening to “hermetic” scholar Jay Weidner link the number of the Room 237 to the set number where Kubrick supposedly duped us all by creating the fake Apollo 11 moon landing is embarrassing.
And the sweeping, unsubstantiated, and unchallenged pronouncements do not end there. How about the entire film being about the Holocaust as stated by German historian Geoffrey Cocks?—there’s a German type writer in one scene and lots of eagle imagery. Or the Native American genocide as recounted by ABC reporter Bill Blakemore, a thought sparked by the placement of Calumet baking powder cans, one painting, and one mention of the hotel being built on Indian burial ground?
Almost totally unsubstantiated, the six speakers, who are never shown on screen (and barely credited with title cards so you have no idea who is speaking sometimes), make claim after claim of what is “really” going on in The Shining—this is pure cinema studies seminar conspiracy. We aren’t even given context of why they where chosen to speak on this subject; I had to research everyone of them online to even get a sense of it.
Another speaker (again off screen—author/artist/blogger Juli Kearns) notes the Minotaur imagery as “obviously” displayed in a Monarch Ski poster (which is an image of a skier, plain as day) located in one of the hotel’s heavily paneled rooms. While I can see Jack running through the maze is like a Minotaur, there is no bullheaded imagery on that poster. Another speaker mentions you can see Kubrick’s face in the clouds during the credit roll at the beginning, but it would have to be Photoshopped a bit so we can really see it (I wish I could tell you who, but once each speaker was introduced at the beginning, no title appears to identify which of the disembodied voices is speaking at any given moment.). It soon seems the Overlook has taken hold of the speakers as it did with Jack Torrance, driving them bat-shit insane.
Speaking of the Overlook, many of us have seen Juli Kearns’ maps of the hotel’s layout, which are featured in the film along with her voice-over. They depict, as the characters move through the hotel, the hallways, windows, and placement of the architecture change to the point of being impossible and deliberately inconsistent. Which is a fascinating point that goes to the disorienting quality of the film, but it remains a superficial reading that takes us nowhere. (Rob Ager’s nearly 10-minute breakdown “The Shining—Something in the River of Blood” on YouTube is much more rigorous and interesting than this entire film. Though by no means conclusive, it at least respects its viewers enough to stick closely to actual evidence based on what is actually onscreen and the circumstances of production.)
Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is a fucking masterpiece, and having “experts” like John Fell Ryan run it backwards to find its deeper symmetrical meaning or others claiming to see faces in the clouds comes very close to disrespecting the work. It’s like being trapped in a bad cinema studies seminar where bullshit artists fill time with crackpot nonsense to the point where you question if they even saw the film. Their explications reveal only their own obsessions and prejudices, their own egotism and muddy thought processes.
Our “experts” engage very little with the actual material of Kubrick’s films as a whole—the visual and allegorical themes, structures, and the genuine obsessions and influences that recur throughout his body of work, some of which inform The Shining. They never discuss the possibility that scenes were shot a certain way to explore the then-recently invented steadicam technology. They don’t even address Stephen King’s novel with much depth. The source text itself would seem to be a fruitful place for investigation and contrast, even considering the liberties Kubrick took with King’s material. No mention either is made of Rober Marasco’s Burnt Offerings and its film adaptation, both of which can be seen as influencing aspects of The Shining novel and film. The focus is on bullshit and wastes the viewer’s time. (Uncredited clips from the movies American Werewolf in London and Demons 2, neither of which is related to The Shining beyond sharing a genre, further confuse matters, which again speaks to the sloppiness, laziness, and self indulgence of this project.)
Fans of The Shining or fans of cinema in general should shut the door on Room 237. Having conspiracy theorist dilettantes ramble on about such a classic is downright disrespectful. Is not worth your time and is certainly not academically rigorous or insightful as sold. (Maybe the Calumet cans just spoke to the use of red as a motif in the film? Maybe: There’s no less evidence for that speculation than the point made in this film.) It would have been interesting to find out why these “experts” in question are obsessed with The Shining and why they are putting so much of themselves into the reading of it. One of them even mentions they feel trapped in the Overlook like Jack, going over it again and again like an unending feedback loop. Here we might find the patterns we are looking for—and the insights into humanity, which Kubrick ultimately has given us in film after film.
Writer’s Note: For a better look at Kubrick’s work, I recommend Vivian Kubrick’s documentary The Making of The Shining (available as a supplement on the current Blu-ray of The Shining as well as more recent DVD releases) or Jon Ronson’s documentary Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes. There is a great documentary-meditation to be made on Kubrick’s iconic horror classic, but Room 237 isn’t it.
1 out of 5
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 152 – Cloverfield Paradox & The Ritual
Last week Netflix shocked the world by not only releasing a new trailer for Cloverfield Paradox during the Superbowl, but announcing the film would be available to stream right after the game. In a move no one saw coming, Netflix shook the film industry to it’s very core. A few days later, Netflix quietly released horror festival darling: The Ritual.
Hold on to your Higgs Boson, because this week we’ve got a double header for ya, and we’re not talking about that “world’s largest gummy worm” in your mom’s nightstand. Why was one film marketed during the biggest sporting event of the year, and why was one quietly snuck in like a pinky in your pooper? Tune in a find out!
Meet me at the waterfront after the social for the Who Goes There Podcast episode 152!
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The Housemaid Review – Love Makes the Ghost Grow Stronger
Written and directed by Derek Nguyen
Vietnamese horror films are something of a rarity due largely to pressure from the country’s law enforcement agencies that have warned filmmakers to steer clear of the genre in recent years. The country’s exposure to the industry is limited, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a handful of filmmakers out there that are passionate and determined to get their art out into the world. IFC Midnight has stepped up to the plate to shepherd writer/director Derek Nguyen’s period ghost thriller The Housemaid in hopes of getting it in front of American horror fans.
Aside from a few moments that delve into soap opera territory, Nguyen’s film is full of well-crafted scares and some surprisingly memorable scenes that sneak up at just the right times. For history buffs there’s also a lot of material to sink your teeth into dealing with French Colonial rule and mistreatment of the Vietnamese during the 1950’s. Abuse that, if you’re not careful, could lead to a vengeful spirit seeking atonement.
Desperate and exhausted after walking for miles, an orphaned woman named Linh (Kate) seeks refuge and employment as a housemaid at a large rubber plantation in 1953 French Indochina. Once hired, she learns of the dark history surrounding the property and how her mere presence has awakened an accursed spirit that wanders the surrounding woods and dark corners of the estate. Injured in battle, French officer Sebastien Laurent (Richaud) returns to preside over the manor and, unexpectedly, begins a dangerous love affair with Linh that stirs up an even darker evil.
Told in flashbacks, the abuse of workers reveals a long history of mistreatment that enshrouds the surrounding land in darkness and despair, providing ripe ground for a sinister spirit that continues to grow stronger. Once it’s revealed that the ghost has a long history with Laurent before her death, the reasons she begins to kill become more and more obvious as the death toll piles up. Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle among Laurent, Linh, and the specter of Laurent’s dead wife.
Powered by desire to avenge tortured workers of the past and the anger fueled by seeing her husband in the embrace of a peasant girl, the apparition is frightening and eerily beautiful as she stalks her victims. One scene in particular showing her wielding an axe is the most indelible image to take away from the film, and other moments like it are what make The Housemaid a standout. The twisted sense of romance found in a suffering spirit scorned in death is the heart of the story even if the romance between the two living lovers winds up having more screen time.
The melodrama and underwhelming love scenes between Linh and Laurent are the least effective part of The Housemaid, revealing some of Nguyen’s limitations in providing dialogue and character moments that make us connect with these two characters as much as we do when the ghost is lurking around the frame. What does help to save the story is a well kept secret revealing a connection with the housemaid and the apparition.
Honestly, if this was an American genre film, the limitations seen in The Housemaid might cause more criticism, but seeing an emerging artist and his team out of Vietnam turn out a solid product like this leads me to highlight the good and champion the effort in hopes of encouraging more filmmakers to carry the flag. Ironically, the film is set for a U.S. remake in the near future.
The Housemaid hits select theaters, VOD, and digital platforms TODAY, February 16th.
Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle.
Scorched Earth Review – Gina Carano Making Motherf**kers Pay In The Apocalypse
Starring Gina Carano, John Hannah, Ryan Robbins
Written by Bobby Mort and Kevin Leeson
Directed by Peter Howitt
Let me preface this review by stating right off the bat that I’m a huge Gina Carano fan, and will pretty much accept her in any role that she’s put in (are you going to tell her no), regardless of the structure and plausibility behind it, and while that might make me a tad-bit biased in my opinions, just accept it as that and nothing more. Now that I’ve professed my cinematic devotion to the woman, let’s dive headlong into her latest film, Scorched Earth.
Directed by Peter Howitt, the backdrop is an apocalyptic world brought on by the imminent disaster known as global warming, and the air has become toxic to intake, generally leaving inhabitants yacking up blood and other viscous liquids after a prolonged exposure, unless you’re one of the privileged that possesses a filter lined with powdered silver. Filters of water and the precious metal are in high demand, and only true offenders in this world still drive automobiles, effectively speeding up the destruction of what’s left of the planet. Carano plays Atticus Gage, a seriously stoic and tough-as-nails bounty hunter who is responsible for taking these “criminals” down, and her travels lead her to a compound jam-packed with bounties that will have her collecting riches until the end of time…but aren’t we at the end of time already? Anyway, Gage’s main opponent here is a man by the name of Thomas Jackson (Robbins) – acting as the leader of sorts to these futuristic baddies, the situation of Gage just stepping in and taking him out becomes a bit complicated when…oh, I’m not going to pork this one up for you all – you’ve got to invest the time into it just as I did, and trust me when I tell you that the film is pretty entertaining to peep.
While Carano’s acting still needs some refining, let there be no ever-loving mistake that this woman knows how to beat the shit out of people, and for all intents and purposes this will be the thing that carries her through many a picture. There are much larger roles in the future for Gina, and she’ll more than likely take over as a very big player in the industry – hey, I’m a gambling man, and I’ve done pretty well with my powers of prognostication. With that being said, the thing that does hold this picture back is the plot itself- it’s a bit stale and not overly showy, and when I look for a villain to oppose the hero, I’m wanting someone with at least a shred of a magnetic iota, and I just couldn’t latch onto anything with Robbins’ performance – his character desperately needed an injection of “bad-assness” and it hurt in that particular instance.
In the end of it all, I’d recommend Scorched Earth to fans of directionless, slam-bang wasteland pics with a touch of unrestrained violence…plus, Gina Carano is in it, so you can’t go wrong. If you’re not a fan of any of the above, feel free to skate on along to another piece of barren territory.
Looking to get your butt kicked in the apocalypse with extreme prejudice? Drive on up, and allow me to introduce you to someone who’ll be more than happy to oblige.
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