If it were simply the cinematic equivalent of a Reddit thread for rabid Stanley Kubrick cultists, Room 237 would be a one-joke movie. But the triumph of director Rodney Ascher’s beautifully constructed essay film about the legendary director’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining is the way it taps into a specific kind of movie madness that travels well beyond the confines of the Overlook Hotel. If you’re the kind of film buff who’s ever been drawn into extended debates about whether Sandy from Grease is really dead or whether James Bond is just a code name, then you’ll recognize the wild theorizing and (over)analysis served up by Ascher’s collection of Shining superfans. (In honor of Halloween, the documentary is newly available for free streaming through Hulu until Nov. 1 — watch it above on Yahoo View.)
To be sure, most of the arguments advanced in Room 237 are, at best, total bunk — to the point where Kubrick associates and even King himself (who famously doesn’t even like the film version) have gone on the record disavowing the movie. The reason the film works is that Ascher himself refrains from directly critiquing or, worse still, ridiculing what his subjects are saying. Instead, using expertly edited montages from The Shining (a test of copyright laws that complicated its theatrical release), he creates a version of the film where the notion that Kubrick is acknowledging his role in “faking” the moon landing or commenting on the genocide of the Native American population seems almost plausible.
More than anything, Room 237 reaffirms the hypnotic pull of The Shining, which has become a revered horror film in the decades since its original semisuccessful theatrical release, in 1980. Viewers ride shotgun alongside Kubrick’s Steadicam-affixed camera as it glides through the long Overlook hallways, finding fresh horrors and puzzling mysteries around every corner. In the process, we become as obsessed with the place as Jack Nicholson’s haunted novelist Jack Torrance, desperate to find the answers at the heart of the hotel, but forever chasing ghosts.