DOCTOR SLEEP

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Mike Flanagan

Stars: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Bruce Greenwood, Jacob Tremblay, Henry Thomas.

Ewan McGregor in Doctor Sleep (2019)

In 1980 Stanley Kubrick adapted Stephen King’s 1977 horror thriller The Shining for the screen, with Jack Nicholson giving one of his more compelling and iconic performances, and it became a classic of the genre. Stephen King though apparently disliked Kubrick’s film, and in 2013 he wrote a belated sequel to that classic horror novel that pretended that the film didn’t exist.

Doctor Sleep followed the experiences of Danny Torrance as an adult, still traumatised and haunted by the events of the Overlook Hotel that consumed his abusive and alcoholic father who was engaged as the winter caretaker. Forty years later Danny (now played by Ewan McGregor) is battling alcoholism and his own personal demons. He is also trying to suppress his supernatural psychic abilities, known as “the shining.” Living in New Jersey, he finds help from an AA counsellor Dr Dalton (Bruce Greenwood) and Billy (Cliff Curtis), who helps him find accommodation. Danny also works at a hospice for the elderly, and he uses his shining powers to help those on the verge of death, which gives him the eponymous nickname.

But eventually Danny crosses paths with Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a teenaged girl with strong psychic powers of her own who is able to telepathically communicate with him. When she psychically witnesses the ritualistic murder of a young boy she crosses paths with a gang of vampiric immortals known as the True Knot, led by the sinister woman known as Rose The Hat (played by Rebecca Ferguson, from the Mission: Impossible series, etc). This nomadic tribe travel across America’s midwest searching out children who posses the shining and torture and kill them to possess their life-giving powers.

Danny and Abra head to the abandoned Overlook hotel for a final confrontation with Rose and her homicidal gang. The iconic Overlook Hotel holds such an important place in the history of cinema that this climax carries a lot of weight.

This adaptation of King’s novel remains reasonably faithful to the source material, but writer and director Mike Flanagan (Occulus, etc) has also attempted to link this sequel to both the novel and Kubrick’s film, a trick that he doesn’t quite pull off. But it’s clear that Doctor Sleep, and especially its ending, owes more to Kubrick’s vision than King’s. Early scenes here recreate some of the key moments from Kubrick’s 1980 film, and Flanagan’s production crew have also painstakingly recreated elements from that film with duplicate sets based on blueprints acquired from the late filmmaker’s estate.

Production designer Maher Ahmad (Zombieland, etc) has done a great job of recreating the Overlook hotel interiors. Flanagan and his regular cinematographer Michael Fimognari (The Haunting Of Hill House, etc) create a disturbing and uneasy mood with some bleak visuals that evoke this dark and violent world.

Flanagan previously adapted another of King’s novels with 2017’s Gerald’s Game, so he seems familiar with the author’s oeuvre and the script is laden with clever references to other works from the prolific author.

Flanagan draws good performances from his leads. McGregor makes his haunted Danny a sympathetic figure, conveying his vulnerability, his confusion and the trauma of his past. He shares a good chemistry with newcomer Curran. Ferguson has a ruthless intensity here, and she makes her character creepy and disturbing.

Doctor Sleep is a disconcerting blend of horror and fantasy, and nowhere near as claustrophobic as The Shining. The film also deals with some important themes like loss, grief, the supernatural, addiction and redemption, and the hold that the past exerts. However, the film is a little sluggish and unevenly paced, especially in its early scenes, and at 151 minutes seems a little to long to effectively sustain interest.

★★★     

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