The Shining is arguably one of the most recognisable and respected horror films of all time among contemporary viewers, despite its mixed reception at the time. Sure, the original novel-writer Stephen King has his issues with it, but one cannot deny that as a film, Stanley Kubrick’s immersive film adaptation is a staple of pop culture.
Fast forward to 2019 – just shy of 40 years since The Shining’s release – and the Hollywood which is obsessed with riding on audiences’ nostalgia has produced the long-awaited sequel, Doctor Sleep, based on the 2013 novel of the same name. Doctor Sleep follows an older Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor), the son of the crazed Jack Torrance (played by Jack Nicholson in the 1980 film), who possesses psychic abilities. Dan is still traumatised by the time he spent in the isolated, historic Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies and is desperate to find peace. However, after he encounters Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a young girl who has the same psychic abilities and learns that she is being sought out by the merciless Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) for her “steam” – the mysterious entity that makes one able to “shine” – Dan’s semblance of peace is shattered, and the two engage in a fight for their lives against Rose’s quasi-immortal cult, The True Knot.
Naturally, matching The Shining as a film is almost an impossible feat. But Doctor Sleep comes nowhere close. Clocking in at 152 minutes – over half an hour longer than the first film – the film is a drag, overly-absorbed in its own pretention and consistently dull. In his attempt to ‘reconcile’ the infamous differences between The Shining novel and film – incidentally creating more controversial changes from the novel in this one – director and screenplay writer Mike Flanagan has instead created an incredibly disjointed narrative which tonally never quite hits the mark.
Primarily, Doctor Sleep has a significant villain problem. But where the majority of the time the issue lies in not getting to know the antagonist proficiently enough, (see Thor: The Dark World or most other Marvel films), Doctor Sleep does precisely the opposite. In fact, Flanagan spends too much time on Ferguson and her dastardly cult, resulting in the previously mentioned exhaustingly dull narrative. The acting on Ferguson’s part elevates a script which is otherwise cringeworthy, but Flanagan’s choice to dive deep into the context of the villains is severely misjudged – especially as there’s not actually too much to them and their threat never feels significant enough.
The complete lack of subtlety and horror is a further disappointment. The Shining masterfully displays some disturbing imagery, which easily cuts deep into the viewer’s psyche, but Doctor Sleep feels like it is forcing itself to excruciatingly illustrate everything to audiences and tarnishes any chance of being in the least bit intriguing. There’s nothing in Doctor Sleep – besides nostalgia – able to make a mark on the viewer, and that truly is a shame.
Doctor Sleep is redeemed by some wonderfully sweet moments featuring Danny using his abilities compassionately, as well as some high-quality acting from McGregor, Ferguson and Curran. But it is otherwise a rather unfortunate let-down for The Shining fans wanting to see the continuation and conclusion of Stephen King’s story. Read the book. It’s far better.
Image: Movie DB