Why The Room 237 Scene In 'The Shining' Is So Damn Terrifying

(Welcome to Scariest Scene Ever, a column dedicated to the most pulse-pounding moments in horror. In this edition: The Shining boasts one of horror's most iconic movie moments of all time.)The Stephen King renaissance that began in earnest with 2017's It has continued to gain momentum, bearing no signs of slowing down any time soon. Between the upcoming releases of It Chapter Two, Netflix's In the Tall Grass, a Creepshow revival TV series on Shudder, and Mike Flanagan's adaptation of Doctor Sleep, this fall is all about the prolific horror author's works. It only makes sense to preface the next wave of King adaptations by looking back at one of horror's all-time classics; The Shining.The second of King's novels to ever be adapted for screen, this adaptation happens to be one of the more divisive. At least from the perspective of King and Constant Reader purists, as director and co-screenwriter Stanley Kubrick presents the loosest interpretation of the story. It's offset by a foreboding atmosphere, iconic imagery, unsettling score, and one nightmarish scene that marks the point of no return.

The Setup

Aspiring writer and recovering alcoholic Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) has been hired on as caretaker of the sprawling Overlook hotel during the winter offseason. He brings along his meek but supportive wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and young son Danny (Danny Lloyd), as the wintry conditions will leave them alone and isolated for months. Danny's unique psychic ability causes him to suffer horrific visions of the hotel's tragic past and its lingering ghosts, and only the Overlook's head chef Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers) can understand. He shares the same ability, which he refers to as the Shining. Too bad that Dick is thousands of miles away, and the hotel's sinister presence is having a detrimental effect on Jack's mental stability. 

The Story So Far

A month has passed since the Torrance family first arrived at the Overlook hotel, and the heavy snowfall has left them effectively cut off from the outside world. Wendy peacefully spends her days caring for her family and trying to keep spirits up, while Danny either watches TV with her or travels the labyrinthine corridors of the hotel by tricycle. As for Jack, well, he's detaching further and further from both his family and reality. He's become nocturnal, sleeping his days away while spending nights clacking away at the typewriter. He's even found a sympathetic ear in the Gold Room from bartender Lloyd. Never mind that all booze was removed from premises prior to offseason closure, or that the Torrances are technically the only living beings in the place.Despite warnings from Hallorann to stay out of Room 237, Danny's curiosity finally gets the better of him. His foray into that threatening room happens off screen, though; only the aftermath is shown as he wanders up to his parents in a daze, bruised and clothes tattered. Wendy assumes Jack is back to his abusive ways and retreats with her son. Until, that is, Wendy learns the truth about what happened in Room 237 from Danny.

The Scene

In a dreamlike scene, Jack enters room 237 and discovers firsthand the nightmare incarnate that attacked his son. Ominous music cues us that something is amiss as we, through Jack's eyes, first glimpse the peacock patterned carpet before taking in the rest of the room as the camera zooms over to the bathroom door skewed ajar. As he pushes it wide open, the camera reverts back to third person as it pans around and shows Jack in the grip of fear. His fear evaporates, morphing to lust at the sight of a young woman lying naked in the bathtub at the far reaches of the mint green bathroom. She slowly rises, steps into the middle of the room, and stops in front of the mirror to let him gaze upon her as she waits. The seduction is near complete.Up until this moment, Kubrick has kept the audience off kilter, consistently increasing the levels of permeating unease and dread through distorted spatial awareness and disorienting color contrast. The Overlook itself is a modern hotel (for its time) with modern amenities, the polar opposite of traditional haunted spaces. Yet Kubrick makes it feel haunted by creating an intentionally confusing sense of geography; the Overlook's layout seems to mirror the expansive hedge maze with its constant twists and turns and endless vast hallways that threaten to engulf the Torrances.The use of color also manipulates the overall mood. When bold, angry reds are the primary palette, Kubrick subtly uses its complement, green, to create a subconscious feeling of safety. Red, the color most associated with rage, violence, and aggression, pervades the entire film. From clothing, to the now iconic carpet, to the elevator walls that flood with blood, red is everywhere. It's a signal that something is very amiss with this place. Conversely, its color opposite is sparingly used in places of comfort. Wendy's plaid shirt, the service areas furthest from any activity, even Hallorann's bed sheets are all shades of green; all in areas and in characters that provide comfort. Clinically, mint green is meant as a calming color.This is why, when Jack enters Room 237, the viewer becomes distressed long before the woman's clammy cold truth is revealed. We know danger lurks because we've seen the repercussion in Danny. We know it because the pulsing score is a terrible warning. That it's happening in a soothing mint green place is a corruption of the space we've been trained to feel was secure from harm. Kubrick rips the rug out from under us completely when Jack steps into the woman's welcoming embrace. They lock in passion, and Jack gets lost in the moment. Until the bathroom mirror shatters the illusion. First, he sees the bloated backside, rotting and green. Then, he sees her as she is, decayed and horrid. She cackles as he backs out of the room, terrified, but it's too late. The hotel's seduction of him is complete, and so too is the contamination of any lingering safe spaces for our protagonists. This pivotal moment, halfway through the film, is the point of no return for Jack Torrance. And it's absolutely terrifying.