Film Review – Doctor Sleep
Nearly 40 years after Stanley Kubrick scarred a nation with his loose interpretation of Stephen King‘s The Shining, director Mike Flanagan picks up the story in an overall pretty good adaptation of King’s own 2013 published sequel, Doctor Sleep.
Ewan McGregor stars as Danny (sorry, Dan) Torrance, son of the eventually homicidal Jack of the original. Still blessed/cursed with “the shine,” an ability to read people’s thoughts, Dan stifles the superpower with booze and fistfights, a chip off the old chopping block. Eventually he finds his way to sobriety and picks up work at a hospice facility. There he finds he has a knack for calming the elderly in their final moments, hence the titular nickname.
Dan, with the help of fellow shiner Abra (Kyliegh Curran), discovers a group of psychic vampires known as The True Knot. Their purpose is to track down and kill shiners in order to feed off their spirit, expanding their own lifetimes by hundreds of years. Leading the pack is Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson, hamming it up splendidly), a creature of wicked fashion, charisma, and appetite.
Newcomer Curran is solid as Abra, the gifted cohort of Dan, lending the character a stoicism far beyond her young years. McGregor is dependable if under-utilized, but Ferguson truly runs away with this thing, bringing a sick sense of humor to the proceedings.
What does any of this have to do with The Shining, you ask? Not much, actually, which may leave fans of the original source material feeling cold.
Much has been made of King’s dislike of Kubrick’s version, and his novelized sequel reminds us how much the film eschews from his original book. If you’ve never read it, you may be surprised that Danny’s psychic buddy Dick Halloran is alive and well, for instance, never having taken an ax to the gut. And the haunted Overlook Hotel kind of sort of definitely exploded and burned to the ground. Where does this leave /writer director Mike Flanagan to go, wanting to appease both King diehards and appreciators of Kubrick’s adaptation? Well he’s forged himself a middle ground..to middling success.
Those who have seen the trailer might recognize some familiar set pieces, as the final act of the movie works to painstakingly recreate some of the more iconic moments from Kubrick’s film. While the bulk of Doctor Sleep‘s plot sticks fairly closely to King’s book, Flanagan (after having sought approval from both King and Kubrick’s estate) manages to have his cake and eat it too, culminating in a decent, if sometimes jarring final product.
It’s very apparent he went to great lengths to faithfully reproduce these moments. In fact, in one shot in particular I had to adjust my eyes, first thinking he’d spliced in a frame from the original movie before realizing “hey, that’s not Shelley Duvall!” Ultimately, though, it all seems a little pandering, offering us little more than the fan service we’ve come to expect from such homages.
This bumbling balancing act is ultimately Doctor Sleep‘s undoing. The first 2 hours of the film are wildly different in tone than the final act, despite Flanagan’s best efforts to weave them together credibly. It’s certainly an interesting experiment in filmmaking, just not an especially successful one.