I was somewhat tense about Doctor Sleep. In terms of the recent boom in Stephen King adaptations, the year has been a slow one. Pet Sematary was mediocre and IT: Chapter Two shot for epic, but landed on tedious.
So a two-and-a-half-hour long, thirty-year-late sequel to The Shining, based on a source material deliberately distanced from Stanley Kubrick’s film, seemed like it was set-up for disaster. There is a saving grace, however, in the form of the writer-director, Mike Flanagan, who manages to take the audience’s hand through this messy minefield and create a final product that is as good as it could’ve been.
The film follows Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) in the present day. First, in a bar, he is still haunted by his experience at the Overlook and at risk of falling into the same pit as his father. He begins to find ways to cope with his trauma; compartmentalising his experiences and finding an outlet for the shining as a hospice worker helping to ease the suffering of those dying.
However, he’s thrust into opening some closed wounds when Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a powerful shiner, is targeted by the True Knot, a psychic cult, led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), who painfully steal the life force from shiners.
Even at one-hundred and fifty minutes, that’s a lot to squeeze in. Despite this, Flanagan is, for the most part, up to the task. He works us through heavy story beats, like Danny’s relationship with the patients at the hospice and his psychic connection with Abra, in a way that is efficient whilst also allowing the emotions to be felt. This is helped mostly by the performances, with all the main actors, including recasts, doing a pretty good job.
Flanagan also manages to find a consistent tone between himself and Kubrick. Despite the odd reference, Flanagan makes most of the film his own while still keeping the slow-burn and atmosphere of the original film. There are one or two eye-roll worthy moments of unnecessary referencing, but, besides that, he does a good job.
Where Doctor Sleep loses points is in the villain department. The True Knot have, incredibly, little stage presence. The only impressionable members are Rose, one teenage runaway with a backstory that goes nowhere, and a guy whose only screen presence comes from being played by Carel Struycken.
The rest are just baddie fodder. While this isn’t too important, as the film is more about internal demons than external, we see this group perform some intense and evil acts and they deserve more of an atmosphere than this.
Doctor Sleep is one of those films that’s as good as it can be. It has an ace card in the form of Flanagan’s direction and solid lead performances helping to ease it steadily into place. It won’t be for everyone and it will certainly divide die-hard Kubrick fans. But for what I thought it would be, and what it is, I’m glad I saw it even if I wouldn’t watch it again.