There is a motif in Doctor Sleep which sees Ewan McGregor’s Dan Torrence locking monsters from his past away in metaphorical boxes. It is an adpt one given the way the film is not only contending with being both a sequel to Stanely Kubrick’s seminal horror The Shining but also an adaptation of a Stephen King novel.
For one thing King hated Kurbick’s adaption of his 1977 novel. For another, Doctor Sleep, which is based on King’s novel itself, directly references Kubrick’s film. In an era in which studios are seeing the dollar power of nostalgia director Mike Flanagan is taking on the double task of following-up Kubrick while also adapting King, something which many filmmakers have failed while referencing a film the creator hated.
King is, thanks to his universe building stories, experiencing something of a renaissance thanks to the likes of IT, Castle Rock and no less than 25 other cinematic or TV projects in the pipeline. So in vogue is King right now this is Flanagan’s second King adaptation in the space of two years with his previous effort Gerald’s Game being a disturbingly grizzly success.
Doctor Sleep is a different beast though. It intentionally steers clear of the rising dread of The Shining, instead looking to create a much more emotionally fuelled story. King has a habit of taking small stories, injecting a bucket of the supernatural and then expanding them to epic proportions by going into granular detail to characters’ backstories.
Doctor Sleep is no exception. That most people will already be aware of much of Dan Torrence’s backstory – he is, of course, Danny Torrence, son of Jack Torrence, aka Jack Nicholson at his “HERE’s JOHNNY!” The Shining best. But years have past and a new evil, led by a seductively charming Rebecca Ferguson, requires Dan’s attention.
Flanagan does a great job of weaving a broad and intricate world of Doctor Sleep. Dan’s conflict and his memories of that fateful time in the Overlook are all smartly captured. Most rewarding his his ongoing trauma of those events and the impact his ‘shine’ has had on his life since. Special mention should also go to the way in which he and Flanagan’s production crew have captured the familiarity of The Overlook and how being back in it feels familiarly terrifying.
But while it is a visual and immersive treat Doctor Sleep always feels episodic. Such is the nature of King’s stories that trying to cram them into a film running time means key moments have to fall by the wayside. There’s a reason IT was told over to very long running films. That this Doctor Sleep home entertainment version also comes with a director’s cut that is three hours long goes some way to cement this. So for the duration of the film you’re left wondering if it might not work better as a Netflix show. Akin to Flanagan’s stunning The Haunting Of Hill House. So engrossing is the world Flanagan creates that you feel you’re only ever skimming the service in order to keep the plot moving.
This is reinforced by a final act that takes in familiar settings that fail to capture Kubrick’s operatic grandess, but instead feel smaller, as if you visited here once as a child and you’ve grown too big for the walls. It leaves you feeling as if things have been rushed, even at over two hours, and that there is so much more of Dan and the evil forces he battles to explore.
A satisfying follow-up to a cinematic masterpiece but one that needed a tighter plot to more fully explore some of the dark ideas that reside in the protagonists closet. Doctor Sleep is far from tiresome but won’t quite give you a sleepless night.