The would-be playwright Jack Torrance, his wife Wendy and their young son Danny arrive at the Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies. The family marvels at the residence’s grandeur and revel in their happiness as caretakers for the off-season. Once inside, the general manager, Stuart Ullman, reviews the hotel’s specifics – the ballroom, the dining room, the immense croquet court – and touts the history of its famous guests. They are introduced to the chef, Dick Hallorann, who leads Wendy and Danny to the kitchen. Ullman privately discusses Jack’s past, which includes issues with physical abuse and alcohol. The inn can be a place of isolation while guest-free during the harsh winter months, but Jack reassures him that his demons are in the past.
Bill Watson shows Jack the boiler room and its aging equipment. In the process, he reveals some of the hotel’s troubled past. A previous caretaker, Delbert Grady, went mad and killed his wife, two daughters and then himself. Three years earlier a guest, Mrs. Massey, overdosed on sleeping pills after a young lover suddenly left her. A certain senator was involved in a salacious cross-dressing scandal. Elsewhere, Hallorann pulls Danny aside and confides that he senses the boy shares a second sight, the “shining,” that his grandmother had once detected in him. The hotel has many evil secrets, especially in Room 217, which Danny is told to avoid at all costs. If he encounters any danger, he is told to psychically “holler for Hallorann” and he will leave Florida to rescue the young child.
A few weeks later, the Torrances have settled in. Wendy reads to Danny and Jack pounds on the typewriter, working on his manuscript. The couple confirms their mutual affection as Danny goes off to bed. They soon find he has locked himself in the bathroom. Once released, the child is in a trance, claiming he has had disturbing visions. Jack tries to shake him out of it, but Wendy urges caution – he once injured the child in a terrible drunken rage. Jack has a flashback about his own childhood abuse at the hands of his father. Danny utters a curious message – “redrum” – which Wendy attributes to the influence of Treasure Island, the bedtime story she had just been reading to him.
Later, Jack sifts through a box in the boiler room. He finds newspaper articles detailing the Overlook’s tumultuous history. Among other infamous events, Jack learns of millionaire Horace Derwent’s sale of the hotel to the Mafia and a subsequent “hit” that occurred years later. In another item, he reads of the Grady murder and the Massey death, covered up as “illness.” An invitation to a masked ball elicits a flashback to the raucous party.
Wendy and Danny return from the doctor in Sidewinder, the closest town located 40 minutes away. Jack shows Wendy the scrapbook of clippings and announces that he intends to set aside his play and write an exposé about the hotel’s past. Although Danny has received a clean bill of health, Wendy expresses her concern and suggests they leave for his sake. Financially desperate, Jack won’t hear of it.
One week later, Wendy is awakened by strange noises and Danny enters their room in a panic. Jack checks the elevator, then the ballroom, where he momentarily hears people, finds a dog mask and a giant croquet mallet. He is shaken, but composes himself and reassures Wendy, who still believes something is not right.
In spite of the warning, Danny has approached Room 217 several times, and weeks later, enters with a key. He is horrified by what he discovers. In the hotel office, Jack listens to the CB radio. A ranger advises him of an upcoming blizzard. He hears the voice of his father telling him to kill his son for his disobedience. Disorientated, Jack smashes the radio with a mallet. Wendy rushes in and then Danny, who is again entranced. His clothes are wet, he is bruised and there is lipstick on his face. Wendy suspects her husband is the cause of his state and once again urges them to leave. Jack vows to defend his family. Unseen by the Torrances, the ghosts of Lloyd the bartender, the Gradys, Derwent, Mrs. Massey and other partygoers become known.
Jack enters the boiler room disheveled. It is clear he has become unhinged. He sees Delbert Grady, who encourages the same discipline for Jack’s son as he meted out to his daughters. Once that has been accomplished, he can join the rest in the ballroom. Elsewhere, Danny has surmised that “they” have gotten to his father. Terrorized, he pleads with his mother. Wendy tries to quiet him, but still not comforted, he mentally summons Hallorann for his help as instructed.
Still unstable, Jack enters the ballroom, which is in full swing. He orders a drink from Lloyd. Derwent toys with a man in a dog mask, then introduces Jack to the guests. Grady and Mark Torrance are also present with other guests. Jack collapses and the group dissolves. Finding her husband sprawled on the floor, Wendy tries to help him upstairs. Instead he grabs her ankle, and suspecting her motives, attempts to strangle her. In defense, she smashes a bottle over his head. She and Danny drag Jack to the kitchen and lock him in the pantry.
Outraged, Jack demands to be released, but Wendy grabs a large kitchen knife before escaping with her son. Grady emerges and both incites Jack’s ire and demands his son. He allows him to unlock the door, where a large croquet mallet is conveniently waiting.
Believing they are safe, Wendy leaves Danny unattended for a moment and goes to the ballroom. She sees the Grady girls, then the cross-dressing Senator and finally Derwent with his companion. She convinces herself that none of the apparitions are real. Jack appears suddenly and attacks her with the mallet, but misses. Still holding the kitchen knife, Wendy plunges it into his back and runs back to the caretaker’s rooms, locking the door. Jack pounds on the door, and as he almost breaks through, Wendy further slices him with a razor from the bathroom. Grady and Derwent become visible to Jack, telling him to take care of Wendy later on. They are aware of an intruder on the way – a Snowcat is heard outside as Hallorann has understood Danny’s message.
Hallorann enters the ballroom looking for the Torrances. Followed by Danny, Jack emerges and violently strikes Hallorann in the back with the mallet, rendering him unconscious. He corners his son and takes two unsuccessful swings, though Danny doesn’t flinch. Returning to his senses, Jack begs Danny to run. Derwent, Grady and Lloyd materialize, chiding Jack for his failure. The one last chance for annihilation is in the boiler room. Hallorann revives and Danny begs him to leave the hotel, instinctively knowing that catastrophe is looming. The hotel then explodes, killing Jack, as the sound of the Snowcat fades into the distance with the three survivors.
Nine months later Wendy and Danny sit by a pond in a Maine summer’s sunlight. Hallorann stops by to check in, showing concern for the health of the Danny’s present mental state. Once convinced of the boy’s recovery, he assures the child that “when you share the Shine, secrets don’t happen.”