Some people never leave The Overlook Hotel. Anyone doubting that need look no further than Rodney Ascher’s compelling new documentary Room 237, a delirious dissection of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. That’s right, Kubrick’s The Shining. Stephen King may be responsible for the source material but the mesmerizing Nicholson-starring horror released back in 1980 is Kubrick to the core. King’s dismissal of this now-iconic rendition is well documented, however by delving deep into the fabric of the movie we see how irrelevant this disagreement is. If Room 237 does anything, it shows us just how much of a Kubrick creation this adaptation really is, and it’s frightening.
Ascher gathers together a handful of Shining-enthusiasts, each with their own conspiracy theory as to what Kubrick was trying to achieve with his maddening visit to King’s haunted hotel. The ideas presented here are stark and varying and highlight aspects of the movie that you’re guaranteed to have never seen before but once noticed, you’ll never forget. In terms of believability, most of these out-there claims will test your willingness to embrace interpretation. Some are relatively down to earth (Kubrick’s story is a lament to the mistreatment of Native Americans) while others are more out of this world (Kubrick’s constantly hinting at his supposed clandestine involvement with NASA and the faking of the moon landing) but whatever you decide to believe, the clues are clearly there.
Ascher allows his interviewees to talk us through their theories, layering their chatter on top of film footage and close-ups of pivotal clues. Whether you choose to believe them or not – that’s up to you. Our audio guides are the first to admit that plenty of these hidden nods could very well be coincidence or continuity errors – however they’re all undoubtedly present and there’s a heck of a lot of them. Add Kubrick’s infamous everything-has-a-purpose style of filmmaking into the mix and Room 237 is thought provoking to say the least.
Film readings aside – there’s something quite unnerving about this mind-bending documentary. King’s story is about a fractured man consumed by a haunted house that just won’t let him go. To a certain extent, everyone involved with this documentary has been wandering the hypnotic halls of the Overlook for years. Studying it by day, dreaming about it by night – like Jack Torrance, they can’t quite bring themselves to leave and like Jack Torrance – they’re starting to like it. It’s a frightening prospect. There’s clearly something bigger going on here which, while hard to pin down, adds chilling new layers to Kubrick’s movie. One thing’s for sure, you’ll never look at The Shining in the same way again.