Film review: Doctor Sleep bridges the gap between Kubrick and King

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★★★☆☆

In his ambitious, 39-years later sequel to The Shining, Mike Flanagan juggles a lot of different balls. The result? A messy but enjoyable ride.

Let’s get the obvious out the way – Mike Flanagan isn’t Stanley Kubrick. Thankfully, he knows that, and with Doctor Sleep has taken a large stride away from the anxiety inducing gut horror of Kubrick’s The Shining and created an entirely different sequel, one that leans far further towards a fantasy drama with The Shining merely a shadow haunting the film.

Flanagan picks up the story with a middle aged Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor), he’s still haunted by his experiences all those years ago at The Overlook Hotel, where his supernatural abilities, dubbed ‘the shining’, first surfaced. He finds himself attempting to bury the ghosts of his past, literal and metaphorical, at the bottom of the bottle.

After a night of debauchery goes too far, he finds himself on a bus to Frazier, New Hampshire, desperate to escape the violent and alcohol-fuelled legacy of his father Jack. Good samaritan Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis) takes him in, and life begins to look up for Danny. He joins Alcoholics Anonymous and finds work in a hospice where, aided by a feline friend, he utilises his shining to comfort the guests in their last minutes. He uses his powers to communicate with his supernatural pen pal Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a young girl who possesses an unparalleled control of her shining.

The kids impress the most, with Kyliegh putting in a wonderfully mature turn, battling between Abra’s complete confidence in herself and her inexperience. Jacob Tremblay’s glorified cameo produces one of the best child performances of the decade, culminating in a hypnotically edited, blood curdling scene.

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Meanwhile, Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson, who juggles about five accents throughout) and her cult ‘The True Knot’ are feeding on ‘steam’ released in the dying moments of those blessed with the shining. They soon set their sights on Abra. Well, when I say soon, all the above is established in the incredibly tedious first hour of the 152-minute runtime. Entire scenes are dedicated to the backstories of characters who become very supporting in the last 90 minutes. Far too many details are over explained, losing any of the ambiguity Kubrick crafted around the shining, instead going into painstaking detail of its powers and the evil that can use and abuse it.

This far too extended intro is reminiscent of another 2019 Stephen King adaption – It: Chapter Two. Fortunately, the final 90 minutes are a different story altogether, as the film descends into something of a thrill ride. Flanagan fully leans into the supernatural elements of the film, with shining fuelled showdowns galore, and a heavy splash of fan service.

The marketing for the film focused heavily on the recreation of scenes from The Shining, which is bizarre given how little they feature. The Overlook is barely present for a majority of the film, and Flanagan instead uses its presence as a remnant of the past, the last ghost haunting Danny. Unfortunately, when they do get to The Overlook, undeniably one of the most iconic sets in film history, it’s made to look incredibly dull. Gone are the haunting hallways and vibrantly decored rooms, replaced by a flat looking replica.

It wins the title of the best Stephen King adaptation of 2019, although it was hardly in esteemed company. Despite no one really asking for a sequel to The Shining, Flanagan has crafted a satisfying but bloated fusion of Kubrick and King’s visions, further establishing himself as one of the most prominent voices in modern horror.

Doctor Sleep is in cinemas nationwide now. You can book tickets to see it at The Electric in Birmingham here.

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