Current Issue #488

Film Review:
Doctor Sleep

Ewan McGregor in Doctor Sleep

Mike Flanagan’s filming of Stephen King’s 2013 novel is a direct sequel to King’s 1977 novel The Shining and Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation, and given a pedigree like that, there’s no way the result can’t be disappointing.

In what is very much the year of King, after It Chapter Two, Netflix’s In The Tall Grass, the new Pet Sematary, TV’s Mr. Mercedes and the inspired-by-him Castle Rock, this is the riskiest venture of the lot, and is likely to underwhelm ardent fans of the Kubrick film (which King famously loathes) and baffle anyone who somehow hasn’t seen it.

Director Flanagan worked closely with King (who served as executive producer, as usual) and there was some conflict, particularly when King insisted that he wanted to minimise the number of direct references to the original film, but Flanagan (who previously adapted King’s Gerald’s Game) wisely talked him out of it, reasoning that the movie would never get made without plenty of hat-tippings to Kubrick.

Opening in 1980 (the year of The Shining’s release), this introduces Rose The Hat (Rebecca Ferguson, a veteran of some Mission: Impossible outings), the leader of a seemingly ageless group of Winnebago-driving nasties who prey upon those with telepathic or psychic powers – or, of course, what we know as ‘the shining’. We then see traumatised young Danny Torrance (Roger Dale Floyd filling in for Danny Lloyd) discussing the aftermath of the horrific events at the Overlook Hotel with Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly filling in for Scatman Crothers), who’s naturally revealed as a ghost when Danny’s Mom Wendy (Alex Essoe filling in for the far freakier Shelley Duvall) turns up.

Danny is also being victimised by that malevolent phantom woman from Room 237 (or 217 in the books), but she’s rather less frightening here, and far more FX-looking. She also turns up in 2011 when we cut to the epic plight of the older, alcoholic Danny – now Dan – as played by Ewan McGregor, who tries to put his life back together by escaping to small-town New Hampshire and luckily meeting Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis), a Stephen King-type character who’s quite amiable but a little sketchy, and really only there to make the plot work.

Dan gets sober and starts working at a hospice, where he becomes known as ‘Doctor Sleep’, and years later he becomes aware of extremely powerful teen Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), who warns him of the approach of Rose and her addict-like followers, including Crow Daddy (Zahn McClarnon) and Grampa Flick (Carel Struycken, a.k.a. ‘The Giant’ from TV’s Twin Peaks). And the battles begin, and naturally Dan is forced to return to the Overlook, which in the book has been pretty much burnt down (which happens in The Shining novel but not the movie) but here leads to a series of elaborate but oddly less than scary recreations of key tropes from The Shining movie, including: the elevator-blood-flood; the creepy spirit twins; the geezer ghost who again enthuses, “Great party, isn’t it?”; and those doors axed-in by Dan’s late father Jack (originally played by Jack Nicholson, of course, who’s too old and too rich to show up for a cameo).

McGregor and Curran are good and make you care for Dan and Abra, but there are things here that seem strangely unimpressive, and the baddies (the ‘True Knot’) are a malicious lot but don’t quite work, even though Flanagan has wisely written out all that wannabe-perverse sex stuff from King’s novel. And it goes without saying that, at an awfully overlong 151 minutes, some 45 minutes or so could have been chopped out and no one would have worried too much.

There’s also a strong indication that there will be another Shining movie, although the famously workaholic King will have to write the source novel first. And what might it be called? How about The Dimming?

Reviewer Rating

Doctor Sleep (MA) is in cinemas now

DM Bradley

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