DOCTOR SLEEP / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: MIKE FLANAGAN / STARRING: EWAN MCGREGOR, REBECCA FERGUSON, KYLIEGH CURRAN, CAREL STRUYCKEN, ALEX ESSOE / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 31ST
It takes a brave filmmaker to stand toe-to-toe with creative titans Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick, but writer/director Mike Flanagan and producer Trevor Macy have done so by adapting King’s 2013 novel Doctor Sleep (a sequel to The Shining) for the big screen. King famously shunned Kubrick’s 1980 film adaptation of his 1977 novel, but due to the overall universal love for it, Flanagan and Macy have treated Kubrick’s film as canon and adapted the literary sequel as a mutual follow-up to both the book and movie; while doing their best not to overly emulate King and Kubrick’s distinctive, contradictory styles. A monumental mind-fuck of a task, but one that Flanagan has both thankfully embraced and miraculously smashed.
The film Doctor Sleep re-introduces us to a now forty-something Danny Torrance (McGregor): son of possessed psycho Jack. Danny is a recovering alcoholic battling psychic disadvantages and personal demons and dilemmas, spawned from the incident at the Overlook which saw Dad Jack go bat shit with an axe before freezing to death in a massive maze. The sequel sees Danny form a psychic connection with a kid called Abra (Curran) who has also connected to, and is being pursued by, a gang of psychic ‘vampire’ drifters, led by the devious and alluring Rose the Hat (Ferguson). Abra tracks down Danny for help and the two go on the run before Danny is soon put in a position where he has to confront demons from his past in order to conquer present ones.
While Doctor Sleep (the novel) doesn’t quite have the door-stop girth of most of King’s opuses, Flanagan’s film still clocks in at quasi-whopping two-and-a-half hours. Some scenes and subplots have been trimmed to tighten the pace. This results in a slightly clunky, fragmented plot, but Flanagan makes it fly, as the story swerves from slow-burning, supernatural, character drama into a chase and evade thriller enriched with surrealism. Weirdness stems from stunningly rendered dream/vision scenes augmented by rich, twisted visuals. Meanwhile, chase sequences are interspersed with character development and Flanagan’s trademark creeping dread, providing depth, terror, and suspense.
In his twenty years of filmmaking, Flanagan has worked exclusively in horror and honed the skills to unnerve and frighten. Here he reigns in the frights to focus on story, characters and visuals but Doctor Sleep is consistently creepy. Horror manifests through characters, circumstance, and story instead of via inelegantly jimmied-in jump scares and set pieces. Flanagan has also expertly recreated locations from Kubrick’s original film and reintroduced old characters without resorting to digital de-aging and re-constructing.
Aside from its aforementioned fragmentation, Doctor Sleep sometimes feels slightly synthetic, maybe due to being overly digitally polished in post. It still looks unnaturally stunning but lacks the raw edge and chilling potency, instilled by the icy artlessness of Kubrick’s original. There is also a slight narrative sag in the final act, but for the better part Doctor Sleep tinkers on genius, and on the cusp of becoming a masterpiece. Contradictorily, not because of its respect to King and Kubrick, nor its adherence to the components that made The Shining so powerful, but because Flanagan’s style blends so well with theirs while shining equally as bright and distinctive as a key component in making Doctor Sleep unique.
Flanagan’s film has been undoubtedly crafted with love, care, and admiration for both Kubrick’s masterpiece and King’s novel. It frequently, frustratingly, tinkers on fantastic, but is slightly hindered by a few wonky plot cogs, a synthetic air, and clunky ending, yet remains far better than anyone could have imagined. Doctor Sleep deserves to be canon, for Flanagan’s film is freaky, unique, creepy and captivating as both a standalone horror and heart-felt hat tip to Kubrick and King.
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10