It was always going to be a bit of ask. Back in 1980, Stanley Kubrick made one of the seminal horrors ever to be committed to film and although it had its detractors, it has cemented its place in cinema history in the nearly four decades since. One of said detractors was the author of the book, Stephen King, who has been outspoken ever since over his disdain for Kubrick’s “meddling” and his deviation from the source material to make it very much his own but despite the differences between the book and film, both have their earnt their places in the firmament as two of the scariest pieces of art ever.
It’s surprising, then, that it has taken such a long time for a sequel but King took it upon himself to fill in the blanks somewhat with the release of Doctor Sleep, 2013’s follow-up that focuses on the adult Danny Torrance and is brought to the screen by writer/director Mike Flanagan, the man behind The Haunting of Hill House, Oculus and Hush, and faced with the auspicious task of bringing King and Kubrick’s visions together. Living totally off-the-grid since his mother’s passing, Danny (Ewan McGregor) has taken to daily drinking to numb the voices in his head and his “shine”, desperately trying to rid his mind from the aftermath of the Overlook Hotel all those years ago. Soon, he discovers a shine bond with a young woman named Abra (Kyleigh Curran) from across the country and the existence of Rose The Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), the leader of a cult known as True Knot who feed on children across the world who have psychic powers.
No mean feat, for sure, all of these plates spinning but embracing both sides of the coin, Flanagan not only pleases fans of the two separate entities but also frees in many ways himself to make the film he had wanted to tell. And, for the most part, he doesn’t do too bad: mixing Kubrick’s slow, lingering shots, with controlled viper-like tension whilst also embracing King’s more expansive, fantastical elements that make for some very unsettling scenes, as you might expect. That said, some of the film feels muddled and unsure which side of the fence to service more than the other. Indeed, this isn’t just a scary story, it’s one that deals with some hard-hitting and important subject matters such as alcoholism, generational issues, mental health issues and the vulnerability of both men and women.
And yet, something never quite clicks fully with Doctor Sleep: while many will quibble about the runtime it is to its detriment and not because it’s over-indulgent, no it’s that for so long, everything feels so overwrought and ponderous that you have to remind yourself that something, somewhere, will come along to keep you from drifting off into your own thoughts. Thankfully, the film keeps afloat – just – as it’s soars on the wings of two superb performances from Curran and Ferguson, the latter on career-best form and is absolutely frightening. McGregor doesn’t stand out quite as much but then, despite it being his story, it’s more about the impact of those around him that fuels the film.
When all is said and done, Doctor Sleep is probably as good as it could have been and while there are some really gripping and beautiful sequences in there, it never truly knows whether it’s following King or Kubrick, or both, and it’s over-extended runtime shows as much. Lots to enjoy but much is, sadly, quite forgetful.
Horror | USA, 2019 | 15 | 31st October 2019 (UK) | Warner Bros. | Dir.Mike Flanagan | Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Alex Essoe, Kyleigh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Bruce Greenwood, Jacob Tremblay