Monday, April 15, 2013

Review: Room 237

ADVISORY: In an attempt to avoid enraging any of his rabidly vocal and obsessive fans, the director of the 1980 film The Shining will be referred to as Shantly Q*bert.

When I first heard that there was an upcoming documentary on The Shining, I was actually pretty excited. I’m one of the relative few that isn’t really a fan of Shantly Q*bert’s generally opaque and tedious films. He’s a victim of his fan base. It’s hard for his films to not be overrated, so when I say that A Clockwork Orange is an overrated film, I’m not saying I don’t like it. It’s not bad. It’s just not that good. 2001: A Space Odyssey is an odd beast, as on the one hand it really is a technical marvel, especially during the time it was released. On the other, it’s nearly three hours of monkeys clubbing each other with bones, flight attendants serving space drinks and people just sort of staring at things. The first half of Full Metal Jacket is great while the second half is forgettable. Eyes Wide Shit Shut is a movie that happened and it just probably shouldn’t have.

But whatever, enough about Shantley’s other work. Room 237 is about The Shining, and the point that I was having trouble getting to is that I really do enjoy that movie. It’s considered a classic in horror and for good reason. Solid acting (from Jack Nicholson and kind of no one else), great pacing, interesting visuals, and some real chills. So again, when I found out about this documentary, I was sold immediately. There have been a few great documentaries on horror before, like Curse of Poltergeist, delving into the strange production of that film, and I was ready for something similar out of Room 237. That’s one of the things I can’t quite figure out about some documentaries, though. King of Kong is one of my favorites, but I can never decide how much of it is because I love video games or the film's quality. Will I automatically like Room 237 because I like the source material? (No. No, the answer is no). Regardless, I was looking forward to cracking open a beloved film as I walked up to the theater to-what the hell is this poster?

If you haven’t seen it, literally half of the bastard is taken up by a block of text. It’s the producers pleading with you not to associate the opinions of the film with those of their own, of Shantley’s, of Q*bert’s estate, etc. Was this really necessary? Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 was conspiracy theories about the US fucking government ruining the world and there isn’t a hint of defensive producers on the poster. Apparently the thought of incurring the wrath of some film students foaming at the mouth for misusing the work of their bearded, narrative-structure-ignoring diety is more terrifying than the leaders of the free world.  Pressing on, I bought my ticket, looked at the receipt and got kind of annoyed again. The theater tacked on a random “Customer Service Charge” of $2 without any explanation. They just sort of threw it on there thinking I wouldn’t question it, which is well placed foreshadowing when you consider that’s exactly what I fucking went through for the next two hours.

The film opens with a scene from Eyes Wide Shut (great start so far) of Tom Cruise looking at a European poster for The Shining. Its tagline reads “The wave of terror that swept America IS HERE.” At that point, a disembodied voice chimes in and gives us a few options. Could this be referring to the film itself, as it was already released in America? What about the Stephen King novel that inspired it? Is that it? Please, don’t be rational stupid. It’s clearly referring to the Native American genocide that occurred in the nineteenth century.

“Oh. Damn. Seriously? Why do you think that?” I asked with open mind and hopefully spirit.

To which the film replied, “Um, because things MOVING SWIFTLY THE FUCK FORWARD.”

It was at that moment I realized that this movie was less a documentary on The Shining, and more an exercise in Alchemy. Nearly every theory featured in the film is a baseless attempt to turn absolutely nothing into something a la Ancient Aliens or 2 Broke Girls. One woman (and I have no idea who she is because for some reason the film never shows the faces of the speakers or any other information about them besides their name) notices one scene featuring a poster of a man on skis and immediately thinks that he is in fact a Minotaur and that the hedge maze outside is for a dicking Minotaur because at one point Jack Nicholson’s eye brows are furrowed like a bull because bulls can do that now I guess. That’s it. That is the end of the evidence portion. The film seems to have no respect at all for the intelligence of the audience as it just sprays them with theories and gets water all over their towels woven of proof and logic and I suppose also cotton. At one point, another random voice I can’t place (because for some reason they only show the names once when they first speak and without faces to go along the voices allowing differentiation only by male and female or relatively reaching to completely fucking bonkers) and he goes on explaining that Shantley Q*bert liked to place hidden messages and signs in his scenes for the audience to find, and three arrows flash on the screen pointing at random objects. I would have waited for some kind of meaning behind those objects, but I barely had time as it cut to the next scene after about four seconds. Perhaps they will be touched on in Room 238: Sorry We Forgot to Explain Some Shit.

Some people lying about the movie.
When the credits finally scrolled (down instead of up, which was probably the most innovative thing this film did), I basically stormed out of the theater. $12 ticket and $2 ghost fee and for what? Blathering Shantly Q*bert freaks waving about theories with no evidence aside from their own psychotic neurosis like those who claim three camera sitcoms are still relevant (I don't like them very much if you couldn't tell). But then I started to wonder. Was that the point of the film? Was Room 237 not so much about The Shining itself as it was the obsessive fans searching for meaning where none exists? Near the end, one of the male voices explains that, “the meaning is in there, even if the creator didn’t consciously put it in.” The featured faceless voices all clearly run with this idea, and they run for miles and don’t look back and just fucking knock away the cups of Gatorade being handed to them from the sidelines because they are making such good time.

If the film is in fact about the lunatics theorists and not the theories, it certainly isn’t presented that way. Throughout the film, the audience is just dumped into one theory to the next, without a shred of context, switching back and forth between the theories so much your neck starts to hurt. The title card reads “Theories on The Shining in Nine Parts.” There are in fact nine parts. That much the film hits on the head, but the nine sections are incredibly arbitrary. Room 237 is mentioned and discussed at length throughout the film, though later on, it gets a section all its own. It didn’t need a section. The movie is called Room 237. I had heard about it enough beforehand, so when it came time for its own focus it all felt a bit like a retread.

It reminded me of modern day FPS games like Modern Warfare - games that just throw you into a fire fight with zero context as you shoot literally everyone before you're yanked across the world and dropped into another persona and another country in another war and repeat for about six hours and if you so much as ask “why?” you’re chastised for not being a man as they toss you back to another area and hand you more bullets. But here in lies the reason why the main problem with Room 237 is so glaring. The only thing you see on screen is scenes from the film. It’s not that you can’t ask “why?” it’s that there is no one to answer.

Even with the possibility that the point of the film might be less shitty than previously thought, the film itself is just poorly made. Some of the voices sound like they were recorded with a Talkboy or a Yak Bak, full of static and badly mixed into the film’s music. And the music itself just does not let up. There is music the entire time. Odd music, reminiscent of bad 80s Sci Fi films. So not only do the voices have no faces to attach to for the sake of that apparent unicorn-like, loose-bar-of-soap known as context, my mind is wrestling with the speech, the music and clips from The Shining, with the occasional clip from 2001 somehow making its way in because I suppose it just needed the attention or something.

I realize I have yet to mention any pros to this Lilith Fair sized con orgy, and there is some good in this movie, as I can usually find something to like in a film (unless it’s Mulholland Drive because I just fucking can’t). Some of the theories touched on were actually interesting, but they all seemed to involve the actual production of the film and Q*bert’s slight feud with King. So yes, the theories that were actually based in reality offered interesting insights, which also just muddles the theme of the movie. Is it about the theories or the theorists? Too be honest, I can’t be bothered to figure it out. At the end of the day Stanley Kubrick is still overrated.

[ Fucking Magnets / 10 ]