Director: Mike Flanagan
Writer: Mike Flanagan
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Emily Alyn Lind, Zahn McClarnon, Carl Lumbly, Bruce Greenwood, Jacob Tremblay, Henry Thomas, Alex Essoe
Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel The Shining has always been a source of contention. Some say Kubrick’s movie is a masterpiece in filmmaking, others say it’s not as true to King’s story and/or characters as it should have been. Doctor Sleep is King’s long-awaited sequel to The Shining, and it was very quickly greenlit for a film adaptation, with the film being a direct sequel to the movie as well as an adaptation of the book. We’re all pretty used to King’s novels being adapted for the screen, be it television or cinema, but they don’t always turn out as fans hoped or attract as many moviegoers as they should. It and It: Chapter 2 are two of the latest exceptions to the rule, proving popular with audiences and King fans alike. Does Doctor Sleep move in the same vein as It, or is it closer to the disappointing The Dark Tower end of the scale?
Thirty-one years after the events of The Shining, Danny Torrance (McGregor) is a homeless alcoholic, moving from town to town as he tries to escape the memories of his past and suppress his supernatural abilities, known to him as the Shining. Danny follows his instincts to a new town, wherein he makes a friend called Billy (Curtis) who helps him to get back on his feet. As Danny starts to settle, he’s contacted through supernatural means by a young girl named Abra (Curran), and their correspondence continues for eight years. All the while, a group that has been around for centuries and is known as the True Knot, lead by Rose the Hat (Ferguson), preys on children with abilities, their Shine (known as ‘steam’ due to the consistency of it when it is forced from them) feeding the members of the True Knot and giving them long-lasting life. When Rose discovers Abra’s presence and her strong abilities, the True Knot go after her. Abra asks for Danny’s help in stopping them, and together they come up with a plan that involves delving into Danny’s dark childhood.
Doctor Sleep is director Flanagan’s self-confessed attempt to ‘reconcile’ The Shining movie and source novel, adapting the sequel novel whilst paying homage to Kubrick’s work. Judging by interviews King has given, he is quite happy with the result. If (like me) you haven’t read the book, you will have to take King’s word for it on that, but it’s more likely you’ll have seen The Shining at some point, and it’s easy to attest to Doctor Sleep serving its predecessor well. There are instances where Flanagan has remade scenes from The Shining, using new actors who honestly do a really good job of paying tribute to the original actors, in order to meld the two together and include aspects Kubrick didn’t. He doesn’t go over the top with it either, thankfully. It comes across clearly that Flanagan isn’t here to give us a remake or act as some kind of Kubrick fanatic – he is very careful to be respectful to both Kubrick and King, with the cinematography and score heavily influenced by the Kubrick and the characters and story being closer to King’s creations, including certain (arguably important) scenes and aspects of characters from The Shining (novel) that were left out of the 1980 movie.
The production design stands out so well in Doctor Sleep, from the out-of-body journeys that some characters experience to the rebuild of the Overlook hotel, so much so that you do feel transported into a supernatural world. There’s been a lot of attention paid to the detailing, and although the aforementioned cinematography takes inspiration from Kubrick’s movie, Doctor Sleep cinematographer Michael Fimognari (in co-operation with Flanagan) creates a lot of new and interesting shots and sequences that even Kubrick could enjoy. What lets the film down at times, however, is the continuity and editing. Some scenes show characters doing something at one angle then something different at another, which was off-putting. Most films can get away with, it as it happens maybe once or twice, but in this instance it happened often and frequently enough to be noticeable. The editing, also done by Flanagan, was very hit and miss in the first act, though it got smoother as we got into the second act when Flanagan apparently became more concerned with being inspired by Ray Lovejoy’s editing on The Shining. Of course, these negatives may not be all that noticeable by your average moviegoer, but those who are more attuned to filmmaking may find it distracting.
Danny Lloyd, the actor who originally played Danny in The Shining (and who also had a small cameo in this movie), did such a fantastic job in 1980 that the character has become iconic. Thankfully, Flanagan went with one of the best actors working today when he cast McGregor as the older Danny. McGregor is known to be a versatile actor, and so if you want him to be funny, he can be. If you want him to be dramatic, he will be. If you want him to wield a lightsaber in outer space, he will do. If you want him to be a troubled recovering alcoholic with demons to fight, he will give you exactly that. It’s one thing to write and create a character that you want audiences to side with, but it’s another task entirely to perform said character and get the physicalities right; McGregor fits the bill, clearly portraying when Danny is at odds with himself and what’s going on around him. Newcomer Curran is a fun if naïve Abra, her inexperience as an actress occasionally coming through, but not enough to deter from her performance overall. Ferguson is fantastic, as always, though her accent may be a little off-putting to some; Ferguson is English-Swedish, so she generally has an English accent with a twang, though for Rose she throws in an American slant on half of her dialogue. It can come across as an inability to stick with an accent on Ferguson’s part, but really it would make sense for a character who has been around for a very long time and likely to have lived in many different places and picked up her own mid-Atlantic accent. It may be giving too much away to mention other performances, as the characters could be a bit surprising (pleasantly) when they appear, but all are brilliant when it comes to reviving familiar faces. Special mention must go to Tremblay, who, for the little time he’s in the movie, gives a strong and harrowing performance (that also apparently frightened the cast). But, if you’ve seen Tremblay’s previous work, we wouldn’t expect anything less of him
Overall, Doctor Sleep fully fills its two-and-a-half-hours with a steady plot that rises to a satisfying boiling point. Sometimes we don’t want to see what happens to characters we’ve loved, particularly if a film did its job well as a standalone, but with Danny Torrance it was always going to be interesting as to what happened to him. It’s also good to see a wider story based around his abilities, as there’s so much more detail on it in King’s novel than in Kubrick’s film. There are aspects of the Doctor Sleep book that have been left out, and they’re aspects that would have been good to see but would not have made sense in a film tied in with Kubrick’s The Shining universe. Flanagan has done something not many filmmakers adapting novels and making sequels can do, and that’s please just about everyone (for the most part), King fans and Kubrick fans alike.