‘Doctor Sleep:’ Still shining after all these years
Among recent big-screen Stephen King adaptations, Doctor Sleep has the distinction of not being a remake, as Pet Sematary and the It films were. It is, moreover, a sequel – to no less a King adaptation than The Shining (1980), which since its release 40 years ago has gradually become one of the most iconic horror films ever made, as well as arguably Stanley Kubrick’s most popular and most discussed films.
Kubrick’s film was touted as “the first epic horror film,” and Doctor Sleep writer/editor/director Mike Flanagan (who earlier helmed the 2017 adaptation of Gerald’s Game for Netflix) valiantly attempts to replicate that here. Doctor Sleep is epic in length and scope, and although never boring, it takes its time reaching the inevitable. By the time the narrative arrives at the condemned but still-haunted Overlook Hotel, one almost expects the gates of hell to blast open, but it doesn’t quite work out that way.
Doctor Sleep exhibits more fidelity to Kubrick’s film than King’s novel Doctor Sleep (published in 2013), replete with direct and indirect references, and nods to the film. Indeed, this version takes as many liberties with King’s novel as Kubrick did with the original. Over the years, King expressed his dissatisfaction with Kubrick’s adaptation, but here he earns an executive-producer credit and has not made any complaints whatsoever.
Danny Torrance, the terrorized boy of The Shining, is all grown up and played by Ewan McGregor, who brings an appropriately haunted quality to his portrayal. Still tormented by his memories, he’s making a valiant effort to regain equilibrium and a semblance of normality to his life, but needless to say, some ghosts won’t stay dead, as it were. (If they had, there wouldn’t be a movie.)
Rebecca Ferguson plays Kate the Hat, a wicked, willowy sorceress who acts as the guru to a roving band of nomads, known as The True Knot, which travels the countryside in luxurious recreational vehicles, preying on the innocent – usually children with psychic abilities – and feeding off their pain and torment.
Danny is inexorably drawn into this new terror by Abra (Kyleigh Curran), a bright young girl whose abilities Kate zeroes in on. Danny, who certainly has some experience with supernatural peril, becomes her protector, but the question is whether their combined powers will be enough to vanquish Kate and her fiendish cohorts.
McGregor, Ferguson and Curran all deliver strong performances, but theirs are the only characters who truly emerge. Even those supporting characters with significant time onscreen remain one-dimensional. Cliff Curtis, as Danny’s friend Billy, is appealing, yet what should have been Billy’s big character moment – when Danny finally details his past and enlists his assistance – is merely alluded to. As supportive as Billy is, wouldn’t he have expressed at least some skepticism about Danny’s tale? We’ll never know because it’s never shown.
By adhering so closely to Kubrick’s vision, Flanagan isn’t able to recapture the constricting, claustrophobic aura of impending doom that Kubrick achieved, yet Flanagan does succeed in creating a menacing, and at times, otherworldly mood.
It took some time for The Shining to be recognized as a classic, so it may be a while until Doctor Sleep finds its own place in the genre pantheon. Yet there’s no question that this is a respectful and serious-minded endeavor. There are no cheap laughs and more than a few unsettling moments. It’s not a complete success, but it succeeds enough to warrant a recommendation.
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. © 2019, Mark Burger.