More than a few properties have jumped aboard the belated sequel train in recent years, but it’s nice to see one stopping at the cinema station that has the right ticket.
An adaptation of the Stephen King novel that serves as a sequel to the author’s “The Shining”, “Doctor Sleep” transports patient passengers back to The Overlook hotel, the bloodiest accommodation in Colorado, previously run by Jack Torrance. Before our arrival though, we catch up with Torrance’s adult son ‘’Danny’’, as he struggles to put the pieces of his traumatic life back together 40 years after his father took an axe to a wooden door.
Flanagan’s smart, shrewd choices in the adaptation process get the film a seat in the premium passenger carriage. You see, while King’s ‘s book is equally appreciated, the 1980 film version of “The Shining”, directed by the inimitable Stanley Kubrick and starring Jack Nicholson as Torrance, is likely the better-known version of the story. As such, Flanagan – who previously adapted King’s “Gerald’s Game” for Netflix – has delicately delivered a film that serves as both a sequel to the film but also works as a follow-up to the book – for those, like King, who wanted to redrum Kubrick for his ‘loose’ adaptation of the source material.
From the production design, to the music, cameos from Shelley Duvall and Jack Nicholson look-a-likes, and astonishing recreations of the same of the most memorable moments from “The Shining”, “Doctor Sleep” is clearly set in the same world – but with some tonal differences, and surprising themes, to appease the King brigade.
Flanagan’s script encompasses something Kubrick’s film, however brilliant, lacked – warmth. This story, though superbly horrifying at the best of times (the ‘baseball’ scene will stay with you), manages to be quite an affecting and emotional time – blending heart and horror, something another recent King adaptation, “It Chapter Two” only faintly succeeded at.
Now in his forties, and yet still understandably haunted by the inhabitants and events of the Overlook Hotel, Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) finds solace in a New Hampshire town where he quick makes a couple of good friends and nabs himself a rewarding job at a nursing home. It’s there, where his remnant “shining” power provides a comfort to those dying. With the resident cat on hand to assist, Torrance earns the name ‘Doctor Sleep’.
Meantime, a tribe of despicable life-suckers known as The True Knot – led by the bewitching Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) – travel the highways searching for children they can snatch, torture and steal the ‘steam’ (the ‘shining’ produce) from. Like the vampire’s lust for blood, this ‘steam’ is a must-have pick-me-up for the clan.
When Dan meets young Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), who shares the same spectacular gift, he also learns she’s being hunted by the steam-chasing clan…. and makes it his mission to protect the girl from a dark fate.
While the always-solid McGregor and young newcomer Curran offer likeability in their roles, giving the audience a team to root for, the wonderful Rebeca Ferguson offers up a wickedly nasty piece in her Rose the Hat. Unarguably one of the standout performances in a film this year, the “Mission Impossible” and “Greatest Showman” alum crafts one of the most mesmerising villains in recent horror cinema, near single-handedly stealing the picture.
Rose’s clan (which includes “Twin Peaks” alum Carel Struycken) don’t get as much to do as their dastardly driven leader, but at 2-and-a-half hours already, the film might’ve been taxing the audience if it had jostled for some extra backstory and screen time for the secondary rogues.
Atmospheric, grandiose and welcomingly creepy, the film compels not with a swift, punchy pace but with an unsettling slow boil that terminates in a heart-pumping, typically-Torrance finale.
Visually speculator, immaculately performed and accessible by fans and non-fans of Kubrick’s film, “Doctor Sleep” is a shining example of a sequel done right.