If I asked you about Stephen King’s The Shining, would the book or the film come to mind?
When it comes to adapting Stephen King’s stories to film, it’s not an easy feat. King himself had a problem turning his own short story “Trucks” into something good when he directed Maximum Overdrive. For every great film like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, or It-Chapter One, we occasionally get a misstep like The Dark Tower or It-Chapter Two. As King can sometimes get wordy in his books, I’ve felt the best adaptations were the ones where the director’s own vision came into play. Kubrick made a number or changes to King’s story, including the Grady twins and the hedge maze, which were never in the novel. The film is so widely recognized that most people recall events in the movie, rather than the book. That’s the effect Kubrick had.
With Doctor Sleep, Mike Flanagan once again proves he’s a fantastic fit for King. The film moves at a great pace, with great performances by Rebecca Ferguson and newcomer Kyliegh Curran. In an age where audiences are typically quiet, the applause that occurred in scenes during last night’s preview screening were great to hear. The film manages to pay homage to Kubrick’s The Shining and King’s Novel of Doctor Sleep while still completely showcasing Flanagan’s vision. Of course, we already knew this from Flanagan taking on King’s own Gerald’s Game and Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House. One might even argue that for this film, we may in time recall Flanagan’s tale more clearly than King’s.
Doctor Sleep takes place after the events of The Shining, with Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) suffering from the same demons that plagued his father, Jack. Although the keeps to himself, he drinks too much, gets into brawls, and is unable to hold down decent work. Dan is also haunted by the Overlook Hotel, and the power that drew the souls to him known as The Shining. The Shining (or just the Shine) is a coveted power in King’s lore. When a group of nomads that feed on the Shine (in a way that’s reminiscent of Mick Garris’ Sleepwalkers) discover a girl with the same ability, Dan is brought out of hiding.
Fans of the original Kubrick film will see there’s a lot of love here. You’ll be able to count some of the references to The Shining, from objects in a room to different locales. For casting, Flanagan uses a mixture of old favorites and new faces. You’ll recognize some of them right from the start, such as Bruce Greenwood and Violet McGraw. Others, like Jacob Tremblay (The Predator) are welcome additions. Rather than relying on footage from the original Shining, Flanagan recreates certain elements with new cast members, which I felt worked extremely well here. I’m not sure how others will take it.
Ewan McGregor is good in the role of Dan Torrance, which feels more like his Mark Renton character from Trainspotting than anything else to me. This isn’t a bad thing, but it works. The film truly belongs to both Rebecca Ferguson (Mission Impossible: Fallout) and Kyliegh Curran. Ferguson’s Rose the Hat is a wicked villain, and she carries the role with a sinister, yet stylish flair. Ferguson has some of the best scenes in the film, particularly when paired with Zahn McClarnon (Midnight, Texas and Westworld), who plays Crow Daddy. Kyliegh Curran chews up the scenes she’s in, easily handling screen time with McGregor and Ferguson like a pro. Rounding out the cast are Cliff Curtis (Sunshine), Carl Lumbly (Mantis) and Emily Alyn Lind (The Babysitter).
As for the fear factor, there is some terror in the hunt for Abra and the way that the group interact. Doctor Sleep doesn’t have much in the way of jump scares, but makes up for it with some tense moments. I didn’t feel as scared as I did with It-Chapter One, but I cared enough about the characters to worry about how the story was going to turn out. That might be a turn off for those expecting to watch the movie from between their fingers or run out of the theatre screaming. If you enjoyed Flanagan’s other works, such as Hush or Oculus, you’ll be fine.
Speaking of Hush, Doctor Sleep lacks a Kate Siegel cameo. Flanagan is Siegel’s partner in crime (and husband). Together, they’ve been in almost every film they’d done. I’ve gotten used to going “Oh, there’s Kate!”, while watching his films. It’s not an issue at all, but it would’ve been cool to see her.
The camera work for Doctor Sleep is very even, though there are a few special effects scenes that really stand out and picked up some applause (or gasps) once they were over. The one main drawback I had with the film was that it was a little difficult to keep up with all of the locations and time periods early on. Even though everything’s clearly labeled, it took me a moment to recognize just where and when things were occurring. Not a terrible thing, though.
Overall, Doctor Sleep is an easy film to recommend. It has some great performances, and manages to be a great follow up to The Shining, while showing a lot of love for the source material.
Doctor Sleep hits cinemas on Friday, November 8th, and I’ll make a return visit.