Synopsis – Years following the events of “The Shining,” a now-adult Dan Torrance meets a young girl with similar powers as he tries to protect her from a cult known as The True Knot who prey on children with powers to remain immortal.
My Take – All those who know me well, know that I am a massive fan of Stephen King‘s work, and as fan it has been a pleasure to see his adaptions conquering depths this year, with the release like the Pet Sematary remake, the much anticipated, IT: Chapter 2, the Netflix adaption of In the Tall Grass short story, and the current airing of the latest season of Hulu‘s Castle Rock. Closing this marathon, is the much anticipated release of his 2013 dark fantasy horror novel adaption, which incidentally also happens to a sequel to The Shining (1980).
Although Stanley Kubrick‘s film is still considered a timeless horror classic by both critics and audiences alike, it has long been evident that King himself was not a fan, mainly due to the many alterations done to his original work. To counter, King even went on to a script a TV miniseries remake insistently titled Stephen King’s The Shining (1997), to mixed results.
Nevertheless, despite the author’s widely recognized disappointment, the film seemed to have stood the test of time as one of the genre’s greatest achievements. Nevertheless, to adapt the follow up, director Mike Flanagan, who had previously adapted Stephen King‘s Gerald’s Game excellently, had an impossible task in hand of bridging both the worlds of King and Kubrick, to appeal to both fans of the book and the film alike. And as one of would have expected giving director Flanagan‘s filmography, the end result is, without a doubt, one of the best film adaptations of a King novel to hit screens.
Having read the book, I appreciated how director Flanagan took elements from the novel and managed to make them darker and serious, which in turn really helped address some issues many readers had with the book. While the film is a somewhat drawn-out and, mostly, slow-moving film, it still has enough to it, to not lose one’s attention.
The story-line is solid and engaging enough, although those unfamiliar with the book and looking for outright horror and gore, will find little satisfaction. There are a couple of scenes which can be construed as horrific, but by definition, the book nor the film classified as a typical jump scare filled horror flick the audience are so used to nowadays, but instead a dark fantasy with superb direction, excellent performances, slick score and cinematography.
The story follows Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor), who as a young boy, along with his mother, managed to escape his homicidal father and the haunted halls of The Overlook Hotel, with a handful of ghosts in tow, who he soon learned to contain in a mental lock box with the help of Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly), the former cook of the hotel.
However, now in his forties, he still remains traumatized by his experiences, and has long suppressed his paranormal powers aka shining, through alcohol abuse. Determined to break his cycle, Danny finds himself settling in a small New England town, and befriending a resident Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis), who not only finds him a job and a place to stay, but also becomes his sponsor by introducing him to AA.
A few years later, with his long dulled shine now reawakening, Danny takes a job in a hospice where he helps guide dying patients to the other side, earning himself the nickname, Doctor Sleep. He also finds himself engaging in regular long-distance conversations with Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), a young shiner, who communicates with him via messages written in chalk on the wall of his rented attic room.
Unfortunately, the very powerful Abra has also attracted the attention of the True Knot, a cult-like collective led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) who have maintained their own unnatural longevity by feeding on the fear and pain of young shiners across the country. Determined to keep Abra safe, Danny must confront this relentless crew of child murderers, while also returning to the source of all his own damage.
What I most enjoyed about the film is that director Flanagan, who stands as one of modern horror’s most prominent filmmaker working right now, never never wants or tries to be The Shining. It is a film that establishes itself as a completely different beast to Kubrick‘s film, while also drawing just enough influence from what’s come before to please die-hard fans of what director Kubrick established with his own vision, making it a terrific companion piece to the 1980 classic that fans of King can also appreciate.
As with King’s novel, Flanagan’s film is a continuation of characters and ideas into an entirely new story, and while it features iconic images and locales from the earlier classic it uses them the way any of us use traumatic touchstones from our own past. Yes, There are changes, some rather significant like the fates of certain characters, for instance, or condensing Dan’s descent into alcoholism and hitting rock bottom, which takes up the entire first third of the book. That’s as it should be when adapting a sprawling novel to the big screen.
Most of the omissions, like trimming the cast or making the more internal psychological aspects more concrete, work very well. It’s certainly an exciting journey with instances of some amazing cinematography, especially the sequence which involves Rose scouring the night sky is a particularly captivating, dream-like moment, and a screenplay that is brilliantly paced, completely engrossing, and never dull.
Here, director Flanagan also finds a way to return to the Overlook, burnt down at the end of King’s novel, but intact at the end of Kubrick’s film, here beautifully reconstructed not just as a haunted house but also as an echo chamber conjuring a familiar cinematic past. Yet in retreading that hallowed ground, director Flanagan restores scenes and ideas from King’s original book that were abandoned in the film, and conjures a spirit of reconciliation and bridges the impossible gap between the two, before finally laying everything to rest.
Most controversially, the film also includes a pivotal scene between Dan and the ghost of his dead father, tending bar as Lloyd in the Overlook lounge, played by Hill House alum Henry Thomas. While Jack Nicholson‘s performance has defined the character for decades, and Thomas wisely avoids attempting a straight up impression, instead relying on just a few telltale mannerisms to convey the character. It was a risky choice on the film’s part, but that scene is key to Dan’s psychological journey; after all, the ghost of his father has haunted him his entire life.
As is often the case with director Flanagan‘s work, jump scares are practically non-existent. The film isn’t a scare-fest necessarily, but its horrors are plentiful and fantastic starting with the creepy cult at the center of it all. Instead, he focuses on atmosphere and tension to elevate the sequences of terror. During a grueling sequence that displays the True Knot’s ability to drain children of their shine, director Flanagan chooses not to hold back from depicting a scenario that will undoubtedly unease the most hardened of viewers.
Most importantly, what you get here is expert film-making from someone who you can tell really loves the source material he’s pulling it all in from. Everything struck a balance for me that I was tremendously pleased with one of the best films of the year.
If I had to pick a flaw, it would be how the film disappointingly omitted two interesting aspects of the book. One being a situation when the True Knot contracted measles from one of their victims, which added a sense of desperation to their hunt for Abra, as capturing her was literally an urgent matter of life and death for them. The other being the role reduction of Dr. John Dalton (Bruce Greenwood), who as an outsider to the situation, played a very important part, so did Abra’s parents, Lucy (Jocelin Donahue) and Dave (Zackary Momoh).
Performance wise, Ewan McGregor does a great job as an adult Danny Torrance, with a nuanced performance that anchors the film. Kyliegh Curran also turns in a solid performance as Abra, while Rebecca Ferguson is mesmerizing as Rose the Hat, equal parts seductive and sinister. Jacob Tremblay is also solid in a cameo.
In supporting roles, Cliff Curtis and Zahn McClarnon standout, while Bruce Greenwood, Alex Essoe, Carl Lumby, Jocelin Donahue, Zackary Momoh and Emily Alyn Lind are effective. On the whole, ‘Doctor Sleep’ is a fantastically entertaining adaption that manages to thrill and shine at the same time.
Directed – Mike Flanagan
Rated – R
Run Time – 151 minutes