DVD, BLU-RAY, VOD | CERT: 15 | DIRECTOR: MIKE FLANAGAN | SCREENPLAY: MIKE FLANAGAN | STARRING: EWAN McGREGOR, REBECCA FERGUSON, KYLIEGH CURRAN | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Looking back, Doctor Sleep was never going to meet expectations. As a sequel to one of the most revered horror movies – not to mention novels – of all time, it faced an uphill battle that even the powerhouse duo of Stephen King and director Mike Flanagan (The Haunting of Hill House) couldn’t pull off. Add to that an unusual story that only tangentially connects to its predecessor, and it’s little surprise that it under-performed on its initial release.
But here’s the thing. It’s good. Really good. Flanagan – who made Oculus, Hush and previous King adaptation Gerald’s Game (which, like this film, features a great hand-mangling scene) – is one of the best horror directors working today, and almost pulls off the impossible, making a sequel that will appeal both to fans of King’s original novel as well as Kubrick’s wildly different adaptation of the material.
The new director’s cut – included here alongside the theatrical version – has allowed Flanagan the chance to further expand his vision, adding in almost 30 minutes worth of new material to an already lengthy film (the theatrical cut runs at two and a half hours), as well as restructuring the movie slightly to more closely resemble Kubrick’s. And while there’s nothing earth-shattering here – the new additions mainly consist of small character moments and scenes – it makes for a richer, more fulfilling experience. Anyone not won over by the movie initially is unlikely to change their mind, but for fans, or anyone experiencing it for the first time, the director’s cut is the superior version. The Blu-ray is rounded out by three short but insightful featurettes (if you’ve ever wanted to see grown men gleefully riding a tricycle round the Overlook, now’s your chance).
For the most part sticking closely to the novel, the film initially picks up with the now-adult Danny Torrance (McGregor) 30 years after the events at the Overlook Hotel. Down on his luck, alcoholic and broke, he’s at a low ebb, literally and metaphorically haunted by the ghosts of his past. A chance encounter with a fellow addict gives him a chance to turn his life around and – flashforward to a few years later – he’s sober, and working in a nursing home where he uses his supernatural powers to help the residents to pass on peacefully when it’s their time, earning him the nickname Doctor Sleep.
His powers also lead him to establish a psychic connection to a young girl, Abra (impressive newcomer Kyliegh Curran) whose gifts exceed his own. But it’s not just Danny who becomes aware of Abra’s powers. She also attracts the attention of the True Knot – a group of wandering vampire-like creatures who travel the country feeding on children gifted with the shining. Under the leadership of Rebecca Ferguson’s Rose the Hat (far more attractive than an energy-sucking, child-murdering vampire has any right to be, plus she can rock a top hat like no one on Earth), Abra becomes their next target, and it’s up to Danny to save her.
So far, so not very like The Shining, but – like King - Flanagan intersperses his story with references to the original. Various characters reoccur (including a bizarrely cast Henry Thomas), scenes from the original movie are meticulously recreated, there’s plenty of RedruM (including a particularly shocking child murder), and given that, unlike the novel, the Overlook survived the film version, Flanagan gets to indulge himself, setting key sequences in the hotel itself (beautifully recreated from Kubrick’s original designs). And while it’s great to see the Overlook again, the scenes set here are probably the film’s weakest. Maybe it’s because they steer too far from the novel, or maybe because – for all his undoubted talents – Flanagan is no Kubrick (That’s no slight, even Spielberg tried and failed to recapture the dread of the Overlook).
Doctor Sleep is a superior King adaptation, and while it didn’t perform as well as other, lesser films based on his books (we’re looking at you Pennywise), it’s a classier film from one of the finest horror directors working today. Drop your preconceptions about what a Shining sequel should be and take a dive into King’s unmatched imagination.