After The Haunting Of Hill House, director Mike Flanagan knows a thing or two about spooks from the past. So, as it happens, does Doctor Sleep author Stephen King, as did late The Shining director Stanley Kubrick. Flanagan’s unique challenge in adapting King’s follow-up novel was to find a way to revisit the ghosts of the Overlook – from the page and the screen – without troubling the demons of King’s notorious dislike of Kubrick’s celebrated vision – and revision – of his 1977 novel.
It’s impressive, then, that he manages this – for the most part – with confidence and dexterity; Doctor Sleep the movie is both a true adaptation of King’s novel and a fitting sequel to Kubrick’s film. Is it as good as The Shining? Well no, obviously not, but give the guy a break. Doctor Sleep is still an emotional and compelling journey, with one hell of a baddie, that should please King and Kubrick fans alike.
Opening with the classic theme from the original film, we’re swiftly transported back to the corridors of the Overlook high in the Colorado Rockies where young Danny Torrance (Roger Dale Floyd – a dead ringer for Danny Lloyd from The Shining) cruises the iconic carpets of the hotel on his trike, pausing outside room 237 in trepidation… Meanwhile, across the country in Florida, further horrors are taking place. Exquisite and seductive Rose The Hat (a mesmerising Rebecca Ferguson) is using her charms to lure a little girl away from her mother and into the arms of The True Knot, her band of mysterious travellers who have only the worst intentions at heart. It’s a smart opener that quickly establishes the rules at play. We are firmly in the world of The Shining, but this is not The Shining 2.
Rather, it’s a film with its own new story that takes place in the shadow of the first film, with grown-up Danny (Ewan McGregor), who now goes by Dan, struggling to function in the aftermath of the events that happened to him at the hands of his father. Now plagued with alcoholism, it’s a chance encounter with a stranger (and some supportive words from an old friend from the Overlook) that sets Dan on a straighter course, with a new purpose: to help a little girl called Abra (Kyliegh Curran) who Shines just like he does.
Though the film is peppered with moments of true horror – the ‘baseball boy’ sequence is particularly harrowing and hard to watch – Doctor Sleep is mainly an emotional journey. Dan’s battles to come to terms with his past are at the heart of the film and the deviations from the novel that Flanagan makes, particularly in the final act, are both fitting and satisfying. Unfortunately, it’s in the final act that the film encounters it’s biggest hurdles too, but more on that later.
Of the new characters, Rose is the standout. It’s an utterly compelling performance from Ferguson as the seductive/destructive Rose and every moment she is on screen is electric. The rest of the Knot fare less well, though. Necessary excisions from the book (and the film is already a long one at 2 hours 33 minutes) mean Rose’s clan are underserved, with many of the Knot having nothing to do. Snakebite Andy’s (Emily Alyn Lind) role, so crucial in the text, is cut right back and Grandpa Flick, played by Twin Peaks giant Carel Struycken, despite having some great VFX moments, is underdrawn at best.
With the exception of Rose, the Knot can’t really conjure up the menace to make them worthy adversaries to Dan and Abra and the final act standoff suffers from a similar problem meaning, for these characters at least, the film lacks the peril of The Shining.
Having said that, the final act is also packed with sequences that should make Kubrick fans woop with joy. Without spoilers, Flanagan’s choices are faithful without being fanatical, embodying the spirit of Kubrick’s film without ever aping it.
For a movie troubled by ghosts of the past – both figuratively and literally – Doctor Sleep is a deftly handled and grown-up ‘literary’ horror, which McGregor carries ably. Not especially scary, though, this isn’t likely to do the insane box office of recently released Stephen King two-parter It and It Chapter 2. Instead, this is a meaty, good looking and affecting genre pic, with the heart of King and the spirit of Kubrick, you won’t want to Overlook.
Doctor Sleep is in UK cinemas on 31 October.