by Hans A. Carpenter
Release Date: November 8
Director: Mike Flanagan
Starring: Ewan McGregor
Marquee Says: All work and no play…
Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) has grown up into an alcoholic drifter, haunted by his trauma at the Overlook Hotel during the events of The Shining. As Dan tries to put the pieces of his life together and move on, he finds himself in a position to help a young girl with the shining as she is hunted by the True Knot, who are basically a group of psychic vampires who feed on the energy or “steam” of kids with the shining.
Director Mike Flanagan (of The Haunting of Hill House fame) had a monumental task in front of him. Not only is it hard to adapt a Stephen King story (even the good ones need a ton of pruning to translate well to the big screen), this is an adaptation of the novel Dr. Sleep which is a sequel to The Shining. The thing is, Stephen King’s Shining is very different from Stanley Kubrick’s Shining from 1980. It’s not like Flanagan could get away with straight up ignoring one of the true masterpieces of horror with an aesthetic burned into the national consciousness. Flanagan splits the difference, this is a mostly faithful adaptation of Doctor Sleep and has some of the more optimistic themes from King’s work while meshing visually with Kubrick’s masterpiece, with music cues and the iconic Overlook Hotel carpet, hallways, and spirits recreated.
Doctor Sleep is marketed as a horror, and it is sort of, but in many ways it’s more of a thriller. The conflict between the True Knot and Dan/Abra takes up the bulk of the runtime, and the cult just are not a scary force. Even graphic child murder doesn’t make the drifters as much of a looming terror as the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel. I’m sorry, Rose, you’re just no naked bathtub lady. The True Knot are easily the weak link in this chain.
What Doctor Sleep may lack in the horror department it more than makes up for by being thematically strong, tying Dan’s story to his father Jack through alcoholism and how that experience helps Dan better understand his father’s decent into madness in The Shining. Ewan McGregor is great as always as a grown up Danny Torrance, who finds new meaning in life using his shining to help hospice patients pass away in peace. Flanagan does a fantastic job of making this movie hit home emotionally and, for my money, if a movie can pull that off, the rest is window dressing.
Doctor Sleep isn’t perfect, but it’s visually striking and has a strong, beating heart. It’s a worthy follow up to The Shining, but not quite in the same rarified mountain air. Then again, what movie is? It’s been almost 40 years since The Shining came out, and filmmakers are still trying to steal some of Kubrick’s “steam”.