Despite being one of the most reliable of the many genres of cinema in terms of longevity and audience response, horror has always suffered from a perception that it lacks respectability, so it was a surprise when the highly regarded director Stanley Kubrick chose to adapt The Shining, the third novel by the rising star of horror literature Stephen King, and in so doing create a film regarded as a classic, analysed and dissected to this day.
King himself was never happy with the adaptation which deviated from his original story in many ways, most significantly the climactic destruction of the Overlook Hotel, and while he revisited the surviving characters of that film in his 2013 novel Doctor Sleep, writer/director Mike Flanagan’s adaptation is a sequel to the events of Kubrick’s film rather than a direct translation of King’s novel to the screen.
It is thirty years since young Danny Torrance and his traumatised mother Wendy escaped the Overlook Hotel where both Dan and his father Jack had been overwhelmed by the malevolent spirits which inhabited the isolated mountainside complex; in the intervening years, Dan has followed his father’s path to alcoholism but has kept his power, his “shine,” hidden and dormant.
Living as a drifter, Dan finds his feet in a new town where he is given friendship by Billy Freeman who becomes his sponsor at the local Alcoholics Anonymous and also helps him find lodging and employment as a hospital orderly where he becomes known by the name “Doctor Sleep” for his ability to ease the passing of terminally ill patients, comforting them with his perception of death.
Finally coming to terms with with his gift of shining which he thought was unique, Dan finds he is not the only one when he is contacted by a young girl, Abra Stone, whose power is far beyond his own and who is being hunted by a cult whose survival depends on culling those who have the gift, the True Knot, led by Rose the Hat.
Running over two and a half hours, longer even than The Shining, Doctor Sleep suffers from glacial pacing and inexcusably stilted characters, Flanagan building a large ensemble headed by Perfect Sense‘s Ewan McGregor as Dan and Mission: Impossible – Fallout‘s Rebecca Ferguson as Rose who between them command the majority of the screentime yet who remain opaque, cogs in the mechanics of a plot which turns too slowly and fails to engage.
Fortunately newcomer Kyliegh Curran works harder as Abra, the focus around whom the others orbit and possessed of a determination beyond her years, willing to embrace and explore her shine as she learns to use it as a weapon, while The Meg‘s Cliff Curtis is so peripheral as Billy that a narrative jump of eight years doesn’t even warrant a change of hairstyle.
Doctor Sleep at its best when recreating the imagery of The Shining, the sinister presence of the Overlook astonishingly well preserved for having been abandoned almost four decades, the flashbacks and recreations of Kubrick’s meticulously crafted scenes, yet it has no voice of its own, seeking to find sustenance by consuming that which belongs to others, and like the True Knot find it is an unsatisfying and diminishing return.