Any adaptation of Stephen King's 2013 novel Doctor Sleep, a sequel to his 1977 novel The Shining, is going to be haunted by the ghosts of Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film adaptation, which has only grown in stature, infamy, and cultish adoration over the decades. One of the best things one can say about Mike Flanagan's film version of Doctor Sleep, which he both wrote and directed, is that he makes the film largely his own, crafting a careful balance between paying due homage to Kubrick's ever challenging horror masterwork without being slavish in his adherence to that cinematic world-one that, it should be noted, King was never fond of, so much so that he wrote and produced a 1997 miniseries adaptation that has since faded from memory. Flanagan, who is best known for his Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House (2018) and who previous adapted King's novel Gerald's Game (2017), is smart enough to recognize that he can't completely escape Kubrick's ghosts. This is perhaps why he quickly frontloads the nostalgia, opening the film with the ominous, instantly recognizable opening chords of Wendy Carlos's iconic Shining score and giving us a quick flashback to little Danny Torrance's horrifying experience in the Overlook Hotel back in 1980. After that, though, he immediately steers the film into greatly different territory, both narratively and stylistically.
We catch up with Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor)-who now goes by the more adult-sounding Dan-in 2011, where he, like his father before him, is ravaged by alcoholism and anger. A violent, drunken, wandering men who finds himself at mid-life with no place to call home and no apparent friends or family, he lands in a small New Hampshire town, where a sympathetic local named Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis) takes him under his wing, connects him with Alcoholics Anonymous, and gets him a job working as an orderly in a hospice. Once Dan stops drinking, his powerful extrasensory perception-the "shining"-starts to return, and he forges a mental connection with another who "shines," an adolescent girl named Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran). Dan also regains contact with the ghost of Dick Halloran (Carl Lumbly), the shining cook who he met as a child and who was killed by his rampaging father Jack. Dick teaches him to keep the Overlook ghosts at bay (they are still coming after him, all these years later) by locking them in psychic boxes in his mind. At the hospice, he is able to help comfort the dying with his abilities, which give them further purpose.
However, there are others out there with the shining, as well, who have a much more sinister agenda: True Knot, an itinerate gang of psychic vampires led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) and Crow Daddy (Zahn McClarnon). The members of True Knot gain unnaturally long life and strength by killing people with the shine and inhaling their power, which comes out of their body like steam, all the more so when they are in fear and in pain. In a particularly sick twist, they prey on children, which provides the film its most unsettling sequence when they torture and kill a preadolescent boy to feed themselves, an event that Abra senses and decides to avenge with Dan's help.
Rose the Hat is a uniquely menacing villain, as Rebecca Ferguson plays her with a vile mixture of ego, intelligence, and outright cruelty that makes her both compelling and odious. Doctor Sleep draws its lines between good and evil with a stark clarity that is often missing in more ambiguous forms of fantasy and horror, with a few caveats (for example, Rose the Hat recruits a 15-year-old girl known as Snakebite Andi, played by Emily Alyn Lind, who uses her abilities to lure in and punish pedophiles). Although Dan emerges as a virtuous hero, he begins the film in a terrible place that is strewn with the fallout of his own sins; in one of the film's most heartbreaking moments, he learns via his shining that a woman with whom he had an intoxicated one-night stand and left passed out on the bed ended up dying, as did her toddler son, who Dan left alone with her unconscious body. Yet, his arc is one that leads to a selfless heroism that is drawn out by the determined Abra, who, unlike Dan, doesn't want to hide her abilities, but rather wants to let them, quite literally, shine.
Like King's novel, Flanagan's film eventually winds its way back to the snowy Colorado mountains, although it is here that book and film diverge since the Overlook was destroyed at the end of King's novel, but was left standing at the end of Kubrick's film. Flanagan chooses to go with the Kubrick version of things, setting up a three-way showdown between Dan and Abra, Rose the Hat, and the familiar ghosts of the Overlook, which has been boarded up and abandoned for the past three decades. Those looking to immerse themselves in Shining nostalgia (or who didn't get enough from Steven Spielberg's surprise recreation of the infamous hotel in Ready Player One two years ago) will find much to delight in here, as Flanagan's production team painstakingly recreated every hallway, every door, every chandelier, every inch of patterned carpet from Kubrick's film, albeit all worn by time and neglect (although, honestly, the building and its contents seemed in much better shape than one would realistically expect after sitting untouched all those years). It is here, too, that Flanagan immerses the film in the Kubrick style, giving us exact camera movements, angles, and beats from Kubrick's film, but always with some kind of new twist. Staging the climax in the familiar environment of the Overlook was perhaps an inevitability, but because Flanagan so successfully staked his own territory and made the characters memorable and meaningful outside of the accomplishments of the previous film, he isn't consumed by Kubrick's ghosts, but rather puts them to good use.
Copyright © 2019 James Kendrick
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All images copyright © Warner Bros.
Overall Rating: (3)
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