Another day another Stephen King adaptation. That’s how it feels at least. The master of horror’s books have been adapted in their droves for the silver screen since 1976 when Carrie brought King’s works to a global audience. Since then we’ve seen The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and It among others rake in cash at the box office and blow critics’ minds.
But Doctor Sleep is different. A sequel to King’s classic work The Shining, the film straddles a fine line between loyalty to its source material and Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 masterpiece. The film follows Daniel Torrance (Ewan McGregor), better known as the young boy central to The Shining, as he overcomes the spectres (literal and figurative) that haunted him since the events at the Overlook Hotel.
Danny gets his life back on track, beating his alcoholism and developing the mental techniques to banish the ghouls that stalk him. But all is not well. A nefarious group known as the the True Knot is on the prowl, roaming America in their RV motorcade and sucking the life out of any children with any trace of psychic ability.
Danny’s task is to watch over Abra, a girl whose own abilities may be the most powerful yet and who is the key target of the Knot. The story takes the pair across the country and back to the notorious Overlook.
This is an ambitious project, but one that Oculus director Mike Flanagan pulls off competently. The film is engaging, well-scripted and strongly-acted. The core cast is excellent with McGregor the star turn as the troubled yet conscientious Torrance. His American accent is so believable it took me some time to realise who was actually playing the role, but perhaps that’s more of a comment on my poor facial recognition than anything else.
Alongside him, Rebecca Ferguson is genuinely sinister as True Knot leader Rose the Hat, while 13-year-old Kyliegh Curtis plays Abra well. A young teenager in a film like this is a hard role to play, with the actor needing to strike a balance between cocky Blyton-esque heroine and deer-in-the-headlights puppet. But Curtis gives a masterful display, portraying the harrowing emotions of a child dealing with severe trauma while also being a psychic dream walker.
While the film is generally well-paced – the opening sequences run through character backstory while setting the scene for the horror to come – I found myself zoning out a bit towards the end as the script is weighed down by its attempts to tie in references to The Shining. The final confrontation scenes at the Overlook go on far too long as it fills its runtime with unnecessary drama.
The film’s main strength is in its commitment to well-worked horror without resorting to the cheap tropes of the trade. No jump scares here, nor tacky CGI. Just the slowly building menace of the True Knot. They’re a particularly frightening group because while they’re supernatural soul-suckers, they’re fundamentally a group who kidnap, torture and murder children. That hits hard.
On that note, a word of warning; the film has a 15 age rating, but some of these scenes are utterly harrowing, particularly the one involving a boy abducted after a baseball game. It can be triggering and you ought to be aware.
Overall, Doctor Sleep is a decent effort. While it was never going to live up to The Shining, it practically stands alone and is generally well produced and acted. If you’re a fan of King’s work this is definitely worth a watch.
Doctor Sleep is now available on Blu Ray and DVD
Jonny Keen | [rating=3]
Horror | 2019| 2020 DVD & Blu Ray | Dir. Mike Flanagan | Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Fergusson, Kyliegh Curtis