Danny Torrance, the little boy from The Shining, is a grown man (and now played by Ewan McGregor). Like his father, Danny is an alcoholic with a frightening temper. A harrowing mistake leads him adrift from one state to another, though Danny can neither outrun his past nor his psychic ability to “shine.” He meets a young girl named Abra Stone (played by Kyleigh Curran), who also has his “gift” and warns him of another like him – a nomadic monster who goes by Rose the Hat (played by Rebecca Ferguson). Rose, along with her cult, kidnaps children and devours their souls. Danny and Abra are the only ones who understand Rose’s abilities and can stop her.
Mike Flanagan, the writer/director of Doctor Sleep, faced a daunting assignment in taking on this project: How do you make a sequel to The Shining that is faithful to Stephen King’s novels (both The Shining from 1977 and Doctor Sleep from 2013) and Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1980 film adaptation? For the uninitiated: King’s novel is not only quite different from the film but the author has never shied from declaring how much he hated Kubrick’s version of his story. King has a valid perspective, as his book is about alcoholism and takes place in a supernatural world, whereas Kubrick’s film is stubbornly psychological and secular, offering varying interpretations as to its exact meaning.
Flanagan’s approach to satisfying fans of King’s follow-up novel and devotees of Kubrick’s film results in a highly accomplished work that swings for the fences. Making additions to the lore of The Shining is bound to be controversial and there are touches here that don’t entirely work. However, Doctor Sleep is imperfect but absorbing, as well as strange and moving. This is an impressive work from a gifted filmmaker.
McGregor was not my first choice for Danny but he absolutely nails it, skillfully tapping into the pathos of the role. In only her second movie, Curran is fantastic, holding her own against more seasoned actors and bringing stirring gravitas to a plum part; Stone is among my favorite King characters and Curran is an ideal choice. Ferguson has been effective in the recent Mission: Impossible entries but nothing she’s done before prepared me for how good she is here. King’s best works have imposing villains and Ferguson tears into the role.
Characters from The Shining re-appear by use of look-alikes, not CGI or the trendy technique of de-aging actors digitally. A little of this goes a long way. Yet, it’s a clever touch that results in uncanny recreations of moments from the Kubrick film. Unlike the embarrassing, throwaway scene from Ready Player One, Flanagan takes this continuation of King’s tale/Kubrick’s interpretation very seriously; he honors the cold, dread-inducing world of Kubrick’s work and the pulpy kick of King’s narrative.
The third act is quite different from the novel and likely the portion that will be the most divisive among “shine-hards.” I loved the alterations and applaud Flanagan for going all-in. A barroom encounter is my favorite scene and a key example of the filmmakers taking a big chance on a pivotal moment. To say the least, this is not a timid, half-assed sequel.
Of all the elements carried over from Kubrick’s film, the most effective is the soundtrack, particularly the use of a heartbeat to convey tension. The two-and-a-half-hour running time passes quickly, and while the lengthy novel has been trimmed, my favorite scenes from King’s book (such as Danny’s ultimate low point and the meaning of the film’s title) are intact.
There are some touches that come across as campy, particularly a sequence where Rose enters Abra’s mind, visualizing how one compartmentalizes their memories (a visual that Dreamcatcher also attempted) only results in some silly imagery. Rose’s gang (called The True Knot) is colorful enough to almost distract from how ill-defined each member is.
In the end, Doctor Sleep is akin to IT in the way it’s a horror-infused fairy tale about empowering children from the grown-up monsters in their world. More profoundly, it’s how we are not destined to repeat the mistakes of our parents. Flanagan understands the anguish of King’s characters as well as the topography of Kubrick’s cinematic architecture. This is one of the few big budget studio films of 2019 I can’t wait to see again.
Rated R/152 Min.
Image courtesy IMDB