It has been fascinating to see the Stephen King renaissance take place. Growing up I was only a casual fan of his books having only read a few in high school. As far as film/TV adaptations go… well they have been all over the map. For every The Shawshank Redemption there have been two Lawnmower Man abominations. In the recent years filmmakers armed with more reverence for the source material (and bigger budgets) these adaptations have not only gotten more faithful, but also more successful. When It: Chapter One blew the doors off the box office it was a guarantee we’d have more to come. Once King wrote Doctor Sleep, a sequel to The Shining it was inevitable this film would be made.
“I always called it the shining.”
Here we are nearly 40 years after Kubrick’s iconic film became a classic of the horror genre. It comes as a monumental task to director Mike Flanagan to not only distill King’s often off the wall ideas into a coherent and streamlined story, but also honor Kubrick and what he previously put on screen. These are two wildly different tasks are no easy feat. And I have to hand it to Flanagan, he did the best anyone could and crafted a solid film.
Over three decades after the events at The Overlook Hotel we see Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) an alcoholic and addict trying to suppress his ‘shining’ and deal with the trauma all those years ago. With the help of the ghost of Dick and new friend and AA sponsor Billy (Cliff Curtis) he begins to get his life on track and puts his abilities to good use. In the meantime young Abra (Kyliegh Curran) begins to develop her shining. This attracts the attention of Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) and her gang ‘The Top Knots’ who feed on the powers of psychic people. Dan must keep Abra safe from having ability consumed by these “Shining Vampires”.
“Well, hi there.”
This all sounds a little ridiculous and in all honesty it is at times, but Flanagan does a great job taking some of the more outlandish King moments and giving them some scary flare. But it still does look at tad funny seeing people inhaling steam coming off of other people. I am happy that the third act made sitting through those moments totally worth it. (More on that in just a moment)
It has been funny hearing people debate Ewan’s performance as Dan. Some have found him too subdued while others like his take on a recovering addict. I’d say for the most part he does a good job in the role. It’s fascinating seeing Dan falling into the same traps as his father, but trying to get a grip on his demons instead of letting them control him. As for Rebecca Ferguson there were times where I enjoyed her, but also I did find her and her ragtag gang of shining vampires a little asinine. That said, there are moments where they’re unnerving and threatening (torturing and murdering a child). And for me it’s always a real joy to see Cliff Curtis get work. I’ve been a fan since Blow and Training Day. He doesn’t have a lot to do here and it’s unfortunate. Finally let’s talk about newcomer Kyliegh Curran. I have to give her credit for being fairly competent and likable in Doctor Sleep.
“You’re magic. Like me”
I recently had a debate with a friend about not only the third act of this film, but some of the casting for flashback scenes. With the increasing use of de-aging and facial swap technology some fans seem to be upset that Flanagan chose to recast Jack, Wendy, and Dick. My opinion, I think Flanagan made the right choice. In the coming years these VFX will continue to get better and may in time be flawless, but for the time being I think a lot of the films in this era (It: Chapter Two, Rogue One) will age poorly based off some dodgy CGI.
There have also been people upset that the film leaned too hard into relying on using visual cues from Kubrick’s film to illicit the old ‘member berries’. To me it was inevitable, but at least felt respectful. And in all honesty most of these callbacks work to strengthen the ending.
Aside from a few lulls in the middle of the film Doctor Sleep works at accomplishing the task it set out to do. I continue to look forward to Flanagan’s work as he begins to branch out slightly from the horror genre. And at least it wasn’t another remake of an already adapted King work.
Overall Score 4/5