'Doctor Sleep': A shining sequel that keeps the masters’ faith

Danny was horrified by the realisation that, after 30 years, his psychic penmanship had yet to improve.

  • Movie Review
  • Tuesday, 05 Nov 2019

Doctor Sleep

Director: Mike Flanagan

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Carl Lumbly, Zahn McClarnon, Cliff Curtis, Carel Struycken, Emily Alyn Lind, Henry Thomas, Bruce Greenwood

No man can serve two masters, scripture tells us. He may hate one and love the other, or hold to one and despise the other.

Mike Flanagan, the director who gave us decent horror movies like Oculus and Ouija: Origin Of Evil (tons better than the original) and Netflix’s The Haunting Of Hill House, attempts that very sort of split servitude with his film adaptation of Doctor Sleep.

One “master” here is of course the 2013 Stephen King source novel, a sequel to the horror-meister’s 1977 opus The Shining.

The other entity Flanagan feels obliged to serve is Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of The Shining, reviled by King yet revered by many.

Kubrick’s film famously – or notoriously, to the book’s fans – hollowed out many of King’s characters and themes and pulled up short of finally taking care of business where the haunted Overlook Hotel was concerned.

In filming Doctor Sleep, Flanagan has made it both an adaptation of King’s novel and a sequel to Kubrick’s film.

The result: a mostly compelling adaptation worthy of both sources – but also one that feels frustratingly rushed in its most crucial relationship, with significant departures from the book that seem rather pointless.

‘Ordinarily, you’d be too old to be my padawan, but a little feller named Anakin changed my mind about age limits.’‘Ordinarily, you’d be too old to be my padawan, but a little feller named Anakin changed my mind about age limits.’

Doctor Sleep follows a grown-up Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor), who now uses his psychic powers to help terminally ill patients find peace, and his friendship with a girl named Abra (Kyliegh Curran), whose “Shine” is even more powerful than his own. Also, whose parents apparently named her after a psychic-type Pokemon.

One of my biggest complaints with Kubrick’s film was the mati katak (pointless death) fate suffered by Overlook chef Dick Halloran, a psychic like Danny, who went on (in both the original novel’s ending and in Doctor Sleep) to become a vital part of the boy’s life.

Flanagan solves Halloran’s being dead in the film-verse and alive in the book-verse by turning him into something of a Force Ghost (played by Supergirl’s Carl Lumbly) here, showing up to teach not-yet-Ewan some vital psychic tricks to banish ghosts or to impart nuggets of wisdom when grown-up Danny is acting like a twerp.

(An important thing to note is that, rather than use dodgy CGI or de-aging tech for The Shining flashbacks and hauntings, Flanagan has completely recast all the key characters. Most interestingly, E.T.’s Henry Thomas subs for Jack Nicholson in a scene involving Danny’s dad.)

 ‘Join the True Knot and live a long life. You’ll have to give up your personality, though.’‘Join the True Knot and live a long life. You’ll have to give up your personality, though.’

While the hungry spirits from the Overlook do have a role to play in Doctor Sleep, its principal villains are a group of incredibly long-lived (but not immortal) psychic vampires who call themselves the True Knot.

They prolong their lives by feasting on the essence of psychics, and some of them appear to possess a Shine of their own too.

I say appear because, apart from just three or four of them, the group’s members utterly lack any kind of personality (beyond being monsters).

Quasi-immortality comes with a price, it seems, but forget about their general blandness.

The True Knot’s front person – the beguiling Rose the Hat – will command all your attention, the way she is chillingly brought to life by a terrific Rebecca Ferguson.

She is sheer amorality wrapped up in the casual overconfidence of an apex predator who has never been challenged (seemingly, ever), until she learns of Abra’s existence – and power.

While the film succeeds in establishing the True Knot as a relentless (if eclectic) force of supernature, it is not so convincing in establishing and developing Danny and Abra’s long-distance friendship.

This was a core part of the book, after all, and it just seems abrupt and rushed here, leaving us to fill in a great number of blanks when the movie takes a considerable time-jump forward.

Otherwise, McGregor and Curran make effective foils to Ferguson’s supremely brash menace (well, she starts out that way at least) – the younger performer being especially savvy at tempering her character’s innate exuberance with the right degree of fear, sadness or cockiness that each scene requires.

The rushed Danny-Abra dynamic aside, the first two-thirds of Doctor Sleep are a very well orchestrated stretch of screen time (with a couple of scenes that unflinchingly remind us this is horror movie territory, after all).

Then we come to the third act, and the director’s choice of location – as well as the little character moments that accompany it – will once again leave King diehards divided. It also robs Abra of her big moment from the book, but the focus for this film adaptation’s finale is clearly meant to be Danny and his long-suppressed demons.

I get it, though; for a big production like this, the filmmaker would have to acknowledge the Kubrick film – which, for better or worse, has become a stronger reference point when you mention The Shining than the book it was based upon.

So the wrap-up is more in service of Kubrick’s vision than King’s, while most of what comes before it (Halloran’s Yoda Lite status aside) is pretty faithful to the author.

As a whole, Flanagan’s adaptation works if you are willing to leave your preconceptions and prejudices at the door.

I don’t know how Flanagan ultimately feels about the two masters he set out to serve here, but there were more parts of Doctor Sleep the movie that I loved than there were ones I disliked. And overall, I came away more impressed than disappointed.

Conclusion: One cannot serve both King and Kubrick, but an effort to reconcile the two men’s respective visions has to be admired.

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Shine on, you hazy diamond.

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Stephen King , Stanley Kubrick


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