I personally hate it when I have to introduce two sets of friends who don’t get on. It’s awkward, it’s ugly and being the one in the middle means you are terminally unsure on who’s side you should be on, if any- so then imagine the stress Mike Flanagan must have been under while trying to marry the film adaptation of King’s novel to the visuals of Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining. You see, King has always vehemently disliked the 1980’s film version of his book citing it as a beautiful but empty enterprise but Flanagan, a massive fan of both the author’s work and Kubrick’s masterpiece figured that if he was going to tackle the story about Danny Torrance’s later years, why WOULDN’T you bring in a sense of the Overlook Hotel.
Of course, it isn’t as easy as it sounds as the climatic events in the original novel of The Shining are pretty different to the movie – in the book, kindly cook Dick Hallorann is still standing while the Overlook isn’t – but with some admirable and inventive script gymnastics, Flannigan pretty much makes it work.
We join Danny Torrance years later somewhat a broken man, the stress of his “Shine” (a supernatural gift of extra sensory perception) and the legacy of his fathers weakness for the sauce leaving him weary after too many struggles with spirts both supernatural and alcoholic.
He washes up into town after hitting rock bottom and eventually crawls his way back to a life of sobriety, getting a job at a retirement home and finding a meaningful purpose for his gift helping the elderly pass over peacefully in their final moments but there are dark days on the horizon. A cabal of gypsy psychic vampires led by the enigmatic (and eccentrically accented) Rose The Hat have been travelling the States, feeding on children who Shine and have targeted Abra, a uniquely powerful girl who Danny has been communicating with telepathically. Planning to aid her before Rose and her starving consorts catch up to them Danny tries to devise a plan to trick and eliminate these hippy soul suckers but soon both he and Abra are on the run, and he realises there’s only one place where they can hope to be on equal footing to the desperate Rose. The Overlook Hotel.
The more you are a devotee to The Shining in both it’s forms, the more you’ll get out of Doctor Sleep. Flanagan has created a thoughtful and lush love letter to the works of Kubrick and King, making it much more of a full on sequel than the book ever was with visual cues, character callbacks and flat out recreations littering the landscape with the looming hotel and it’s notorious denizens taking centre stage during the climax. But it goes even deeper than that with the director (who also managed to realise the author’s Gerald’s Game for Netflix) managing to fuse unused moments from The Shining: The Book into the Doctor Sleep: The Movie, punching up the ending and hopefully easing King’s disgruntled mutterings about the original.
However, there’s a distinct sense that if you’re a causual viewer, all of this impressive hard work and slavish attention to movie history will simply pass way over your head and all you’re left with is an above average, if slightly overlong, horror thriller. Well acted, yes. Well shot, certainly. But ultimately (a few well planned jump scares and some startling images aside) it has only a mere fraction of the bone-chilling scares that populated it’s predecessor.
It’s a good job, then, that it’s main characters are so engaging. Ewan McGregor as Danny can play ex-addicts finding their humanity in his sleep but still manages to find different shades to the tormented alcoholic – the scene where he has a frank discussion about the nature of addiction with a ghost who may or may not be his father could be the greatest moment about alcoholism in any Stephen King film ever (a subject very close to the author’s heart) and young Kyliegh Curran as the feisty Alba has presence and charisma beyond her years. But it’s the ever dependable Rebecca Ferguson as the seductive, egotistical predator Rose who gets to have the most fun in a rare villain role.
Flanagan has turned in an adaption that somehow achieves the impossible (other actors playing Jack and Wendy Torrance and Dick Hallorann other than Nicholson, Duvall and Carruthers proves to be initially jarring but ultimately better that utilizing distracting de-aging CGI) and still manages to make his vision come through the multiple Kubrick camera moves – the bit where Rose has an out of body experience that ends in a horrible suprise in order to track her prey is stunning – but regardless of the many plus points, Doctor Sleep, thanks to a slow first half, is unable to escape the shadow of it’s classic, older brother.
In fact you could say it’s in danger of being… Overlooked.