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Doctor Sleep

****
2019

‘…Flanagan and King have repurposed many of the familiar elements as part of a new and very different story, one that riffs neatly on the original property while going off in a fresh direction…’

‘When I was a kid, I didn’t understand the shining,’ says Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) in Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of the novel by Stephen King. It’s a fair point; I saw The Shining when I was 12, and was chilled, filled with dread, hugely impressed, but also genuinely didn’t quite understand what I’d just seen, right down to the mysterious final photograph of Jack Torrance back in the 1920’s. Stanley Kubrick’s film has since been much discussed and dissected, with many fanboy and conspiracy theories about the possible meanings, and that elusiveness is a key part of the haunting appeal. The biggest problem Doctor Sleep has is that, by positioning The Shining as part of a larger story, the meanings are nailed down and by the final scenes, the sense of mystery is palpably reduced to a thematic ghost-train ride.

That said, Doctor Sleep is probably one of the better adaptations of King’s work, and generally a lot more faithful to his writing. Young Danny is seen getting advice from Dick Halloran (Carl Lumbly) about how to put his demons to rest, imagining a series of boxes into which his fears are captured and forgotten. But Danny has demons of his own, and his battle with alcohol mirrors that of his father Jack. Danny starts life in a new town, but his ‘shining’ creates a connection to Abra, a young girl with a similar gift. Meanwhile, a new plotline details the antics of Four Non Blondes-influenced vampire Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) whose crew require the ‘steam’ of innocent young victims to survive. Rose has designs on Abra, and Danny is torn between his fears of his past and his desire to help the young girl.

Flanagan is something of a whizz with post-modern horror; his Ouija: Origins of Evil showed he could take rote characters and plot elements and fashion something fresh and memorable from them. And his Haunting of Hill House tv show ably used the original Shirley Jackson novel as a base for a much more expansive but spiritually connected story. Flanagan was the perfect choice for this film, and does well to create a work that’s faithful both to King and Kubrick; fans of The Shining in all its incarnations will know that Halloran’s fate differs in the film to the original book, but Flanagan cleverly fudges whether the character is alive or dead as the story starts. He clearly enjoys working in the Stephen King meta-verse, and Doctor Sleep also links ingeniously with many of King’s preoccupations.

Kubrick famously cut many of the supernatural elements from King’s novel, and created something suggestive, grim and foreboding. Flanagan and King have repurposed many of the familiar elements as part of a new and very different story, one that riffs neatly on the original property while going off in a fresh direction. McGregor gives one of his best performances as Danny, wrestling with his demons in some depth, while Ferguson is a slippery foe in Rose. Although the ending spells things out far too clearly, and Doctor Sleep can’t aspire to be the game-changer that Kubrick’s The Shining was, it’s a stylish, entertaining sequel that thrills and chills on route.

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  1. Yes, too long but far more absorbing than I expected. McGregor at the top of his game and ineresting to see how Flanagan skirts round Kubrick territory but still makes it his own.

  2. Nothing much scared me as a kid, except for my mercurial dad… I was about 20 when I had my first film related nightmare’ish experience–Heston in The Omega Man. I like King but he plays with magical realism and horror and cheats IMO. Magic has habits and a few rules. His Rose character, True Knots, and methods for telekinesis are imaginative but break magical protocol, which he doesn’t explain. His death count’s always high…But you’re right, Flanagan does stay true to King’s book and intentions and McGregor is outstanding. Well done once again!

    • Thanks! I always bow to your superior knowledge on these things. fathers, bad or otherwise, are often what scares us as kids, and I certainly recognised Jack Torrance when I saw him on screen….your experience with The Omega Man is very mid-70’s, its amazing to think that such dark fare was seen as suitable for all! I’m always interested in the rules of magic; who knocks on your door with a warning if you break them? And King plays hard and fast, but usually by his own rules rather than anyone elses. It certainly makes him compelling to read when he’s got the bit between his teeth…

    • There’s far too many contenders, because all film school poshos want to be Kubrick, so Fincher, Nolan and so on all end up in his wake…Flanagan doesn’t attempt any of Kubrick’s mystique, but I can exclusively reveal that thanks to a friend, I had a brief period of exclusive access to Kubrick’s condiments, and gained many insights into the great man’s work from there.

      Is Taylor Swift the new Elaine Stritch? Is Anya Taylor Joy the new Kim Novak? You can tell I’ve just seen Amsterdam….

  3. I watched this the first time and the running time really got to me. It just seemed. Too. Long. I liked it. It just seemed. Too. Long. But then I watched it a second time. And I liked it more. And it no longer felt. Too. Long. Not as good as The Shining, but very good and worth the time invested. I do think it is helpful to have seen The Shining first before seeing this one. I also agree Mike Flanagan did a wonderful job directing this, and the acting was first-rate.

    • I’m in agreement with you that it goes on a bit, and for me, that climax is too extended; I guess thay had to make a big deal of going back to the Overlook, but that falls a bit flat to me. But once you know where the story is going, the detail of Danny’s story and battle with the bottle and the past make for a pretty absorbing film…seeing the original film, or reading the book, or ideally both really would help…

    • There’s a director’s cut that I’m keen to see. Not a big fan of the ending, but most of this is up to snuff.

  4. Having read the Shining, I was never tempted to read Dr Sleep, so I’m not sure I was even aware it had been made into a movie. What year was this released?

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