Directed by Mike Flanagan. Starring Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyleigh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Carl Lumbly.
The Plot: Many years after his traumatic childhood experience at the Overlook Hotel, Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) is directionless and is heading down the same road as his late, alcoholic father. His special ability, The Shining, is now fuzzy and not as strong as it used to be. That is, until he becomes aware of another person who shines – teenager Abra (Kyleigh Curran). Her shine is far more developed and mature than Dan’s, but they become friends through their shared connection. Her shine is something that also draws the attention of Rose The Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) and her True Knot cult. They are ancient beings who live off the shine or ‘steam’ of others, by inducing fear in their victims. Dan must set aside his personal issues and protect Abra by confronting the demons in his mind…
The Verdict: Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is an unquestionable masterpiece of horror. Kubrick tried his hand at many genres and with horror he elevated Stephen King’s novel into something beyond terrifying and into a whole new plane of fear. Of course, King dismissed Kubrick’s take on his bestseller and complained about it for many years until he made his peace with it. That provides an intriguing backstory for an adaptation of Doctor Sleep, King’s own follow-up to his book. Given how iconic and beloved Kubrick’s film is, how does one adapt it? Go for a straight adaptation and make it a sequel to the book? Or go for a straight sequel to the film and see where that might take it? In the end, Oculus and Gerald’s Game director Mike Flanagan has gone for a bridging adaptation that has got King’s seal of approval. He recently called Flanagan a talented director and an excellent storyteller – qualities that soon become apparent as the plot unfolds.
Flanagan’s screenplay is carefully structured to follow the paths of Dan, Abra and Rose The Hat as their lines intersect and then clash with each other. They each have well-developed early scenes that establish their powers for good or evil. Flanagan is in no hurry here and that extra bit of character development goes a long way, particularly in Dan’s interactions with a returning character who himself shines. Clocking in at just a few minutes longer than the U.S. theatrical version of its predecessor, Flanagan unpeels the onion-like plot of Doctor Sleep like a skilled chef. Pacing could have been an issue here, but Flanagan makes each scene count as adding to the developing story rather than slowing it down. It has the pacing of the novel, but only punchier and more urgent. Dan needs to get in touch with his inner child to confront the fear that has been eating away at him all his life. Abra wants to eliminate Rose and her tribe with her shine, as they represent pure evil. Meanwhile, Rose wants to either use or turn Abra for her own ends.
In a slight divergence from the book, the film really comes into its own in the superb third act. This involves a painstakingly accurate recreation of the Overlook Hotel and its haunted interiors from Kubrick’s film. Flanagan is Kubrick-level obsessive in his detail here in the production design, from the hallways to the wallpaper to the dated décor of Room 237. Horror fans will get chilly goosebumps at the sight of these sets, which are nothing short of outstanding. Sorry Steven Spielberg, your surprise tribute to The Shining in Ready Player One has just been buried in the snow. That’s not all though. Such is Flanagan’s admiration for Kubrick’s film that he also dots easter eggs for observant viewers throughout his own film. Performances are uniformly solid here too, from McGregor’s troubled Dan to the more confident shining abilities of Curran as Abra and Ferguson as the coolly menacing Rose.
Doctor Sleep skilfully and successfully bridges the shining worlds of both King and Kubrick to become a happy medium between the two. Judged on its own merits though, it’s a well-paced, thrilling and often unnerving cinematic horror experience which expands and develops what came before while posing new and interesting character turns. As a sequel, it shines on brightly and brings the skeletons back out of the closet for one more chase through the hedge maze.