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There’s a certain brand of reasoning that shows up, from time to time, in documentaries on the History Channel. It has us ask questions like “Did the Navy carry out time-travel experiments during World War II?” or “Does the chupacabra roam the plains of the Southwest?” Most of the documentaries answer these questions with a definitive no. But, from time to time, the search for an answer is so engrossing, especially if you’re home from school, with a fever, watching a UFO Files marathon, that the possibility of something extraordinary, small as it might be, starts to feel like an answer in itself. Rodney Ascher’s Room 237 is a critical, but sympathetic, exploration of exactly this kind of thinking.

Room 237 introduces five people whose lives have been more or less consumed by speculation about The Shining. Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror film might be the perfect subject for a documentary like this. The cliché has become, for good reason, that the whole movie is a lot like the Overlook Hotel’s massive hedge maze: opaque, daunting, and nearly impossible to escape from.

Ascher takes a hands-off approach to his interviews, letting the critics speak freely and at length about their interpretations. In fact, we never even see the speakers’ faces. Instead, the audio and the video seem always at a slight remove. Nearly all of the visuals running under the commentary, besides a few Unsolved Mysteries-style reenactments, are clips from The Shining and other films. These serve as a commentary on the commentary – some are direct illustrations of the critics’ theories, while others show up more to poke fun at them. For example, in a scene in The Shining, a chair noticeably disappears between shots, but the more Ascher replays the clip to emphasize the discontinuity, and the more a disembodied voice goes on and on about its significance as a metaphor for the Holocaust, the more inconsequential the moment seems. The reenactments, plus title cards and special effects used to manipulate clips, call to mind the formal yet somehow queasy stylistic languages of both Kubrick and Ancient Aliens, quintessential History Channel programming.

Still, for all of their ridiculousness, the interviewees are personable and convincing. It’s hard not to feel a secondhand excitement as they describe their first experiences with The Shining, some of them seeing it over and over again in pursuit of something just beyond their understanding. The humanity of the critics – one interrupts his explanations to talk with his young son – makes them into people you’d want to have a conversation with, however one-sided it might end up, and while some of the interpretations of The Shining appear to be on seriously shaky ground (Stanley Kubrick probably didn’t help fake the moon landings), others are rigorous and sometimes beautiful, like the Overlook set having windows where there couldn’t possibly be any, or a superimposition of the film played backwards and forwards that turns its opening and closing scenes into an uncanny “postcard”.

With the critics hidden away behind the constant stream of clips, it gets hard to tell one from the next unless certain keywords (“Apollo 11,” say) pop up. Our confusion about the critics and the critics’ confusion about the film and the characters’ confusion within the film meld together in a deeply unsettling way. The more difficult it becomes to tell the ideas that make sense from the ones that don’t, the harder it also is to articulate what sense even looks like. The inconsistencies in the dream-logic architecture of Kubrick’s Overlook are never fully exorcised – they only resurface in the path Room 237 leads us down.