Director: Mike Flanagan
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran
Review Author: Tony
After the wonderful adaptation of Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game, I was clamoring to see what Mike Flanagan would do next. When he announced his interest in adapting King’s follow up to The Shining, Doctor Sleep, I just assumed it would be based on the novel due to King and Stanley Kubrick’s very public disagreement over Kubrick’s film. The announcement that Flanagan would be both adapting the book and making a sequel to the 1981 film was a shock to most and seemed like an overambitious task by Flanagan to appease too many fans of both properties at once. Thankfully Flanagan has a key understanding of the legacy of both the books and films.
Following the events at The Overlook Hotel, a young Danny Torrance is still tormented by the denizens of the hotel. Under the guidance of the ghost of Dick Halloran, Danny learns to control his shining to seal away the spectres that plague him. In adulthood, Danny has inherited his father’s alcoholism but applies it to suppress his shining and hide away. Unbeknownst to Danny, a bizarre cult uses their shining powers to pursue others like them and devour their life force.
Danny seeks solace in a small town in New Hampshire and befriends a man named Billy who can sense he’s a tortured but a good man. Billy gets Danny a job, a room, and becomes his AA sponsor. Years into his sobriety, Danny has a telepathic penpal in a young girl called Abra who shows extraordinary levels of shining. Unfortunately, this draws the attention of the cult and their ruthless leader, Rose The Hat, who have become starved for the life force of others.
Whereas The Shining was a properly enclosed film that concentrated on the haunting and consequent twisting of Jack Torrance against his family within a singular location, Doctor Sleep takes a grander approach that really delves into the lore of these extraordinary powers as well as Danny’s journey in the aftermath of the trauma he has experienced. Danny’s shining was very much prevalent in the first film but it felt almost inconsequential to the flow of the plot, mostly his powers hinted at the haunting of the hotel. For a film named The Shining, the shining ended up playing second fiddle to Jack Torrance’s descent into madness.
One of the most remarkable features of the film is seeing the shining realised visually. There are some mind bending moments as reality is warped and tangled that are pretty off the wall and allow Flanagan to have a lot of fun and establish his visual flair seen in his preceding work. Not only do we see the shining used for telepathy but also used in a far more sinister manner as a vampiric cult called the True Knot drain others with shining abilities to feed (they refer to it as steam) and extend their life spans. In a pretty harrowing scene, a child is subject to torture so that the True Knot can squeeze as much steam out of him as possible. Alternatively, we get to see Danny use his shining powers to help comfort dying patrons as a hospice orderly, and in their final moments show them death is not the end. These touching moments were among my favourite and I’m happy they made it into the final film despite its rather lengthy runtime.
The final act will prove divisive among fans of both the book and film as we return to The Overlook Hotel. This act certainly plays to fans of the Kubrick’s movie as the hotel is practically perfectly replicated, looking untouched since the original film. By playing to the Kubrick Enthusiasts, the film loses its own voice with a little too many nods to the initial film. Thankfully Flanagan has a few tricks up his sleeve to keep this act engaging and incorporate some intelligent twists and turns.
Flanagan achieves the impossible by crafting a sequel and adaptation that offers tribute to both source material while still establishing his own vision. Doctor Sleep may not be all that scary but it packs a punch with unsettling scenes and surreal imagery. There is a legitimate sense of finality and closure for the character of Danny Torrance that we do not see with many sequels. Despite the ghosts of the past and crazy hippy cults, Doctor Sleep takes a substantial focus on overcoming trauma and empowering oneself. Flanagan has directed a surprisingly emotional film that carries the true impact of the circumstances of its predecessor and creatively develops the narrative while still being faithful to King’s novels.
Rating: 4.25 / 5 Naked Bathtub Ghosts