The original The Shining I think is one of the best horror films ever made. The way that Kubrick builds the tension through isolation throughout the film is masterful and there is so much care and detail in every frame of the film. Famously though, Stephen King hated the film at the time due to deviations from his book and later wrote a sequel to his book. When the news that the sequel was going to be adapted, I wondered whether it would make reference to Kubrick’s film at all, although I was optimistic when Mike Flanagan was hired to direct. Then the trailers came out and confirmed it would be a sequel to Kubrick’s film as well as an adaptation of the book. However, in this instance, on a whole this works against the film, causing it to try too many things and not quite work as a whole.
Following the events of The Shining, Dan Torrance is stilled traumatised, finding it hard to recover and turning to alcohol to cope, along with him still being haunted by the ghosts of The Overlook. After spending years on the road, he finds a place in Frazier, New Hampshire, working as an orderly at a hospice where he also gives comfort to patients about to die using his shining, earning him the nickname Doctor Sleep. He also has conversations with a girl, Abra, who also has the shining, throughout his time in Frazier. However, Abra has also gotten the attention of the True Knot, led by Rose the Hat, who feed on the ‘steam’ released by children with the shining when they die in pain in order to live longer and Dan has to stop the True Knot and help save Abra. Now the film is doing triple duty in acting as a sequel to Kubrick’s film, an adaptation of Doctor Sleep and adapting the elements of King’s The Shining that Kubrick cut out and I think in trying to do these things, the film doesn’t really have it’s own identity. The best elements for me related to the Overlook, but that’s mostly because Flanagan recreates what Kubrick did shot for shot. There are attempts to go into themes of alcoholism and the lingering effects of trauma but these don’t quite get the attention they deserve in the second half of the film. I also think there’s an issue of this film trying to explain details that Kubrick kept vague in his film, trying to make the shining more concrete and give explanations for the Overlook and these bog the film down in exposition. There’s a reason Kubrick didn’t include scenes like that in his film and ultimately this leads to the biggest problem of the film for me: it’s not scary. Not only is it not scary but at no point did I feel any tension and this just made the film feel boring to me. Flanagan is a good horror filmmaker, but here he should have taken more cues from Kubrick and not be so reverential to King’s book.
The performances I thought were pretty good. Ewan McGregor as Dan does a good job showing the lingering trauma the character feels and his alcohol issues and as Rose the Hat, Rebecca Ferguson is relishing the character, having a lot of fun playing someone so vile and if there are any moments of tension it’s down to her performance. Kyliegh Curran is good as Abra, making her character feel believable and showing her power effectively. As characters from the original, Carl Lumbly and Alex Essoe are good, Lumbly having this power to his performance that gives the film some weight, whilst Essoe does a good job at replicating the acting of Shelley Duvall. I did feel that Zahn McClarnon and Bruce Greenwood were underutilised though, especially McClarnon who has great chemistry with Ferguson and adds to the rare moments of tension in the film, whilst Cliff Curtis is okay as Dan’s friend, but his character is fairly bland as written.
On a technical level, the film is impressive. There is good production design work and use of lighting to show the negative sides of Dan’s character earlier in the film and his growing courage as the film goes on and, whilst I don’t think the script works well to create tension, it’s clear that Flanagan and DP Michael Fimognari are trying to create this tension in how the film is shot. The most impressive elements though are with the Overlook. To ensure that there is a strong connection between this and The Shining, Flanagan has scenes from The Shining recreated shot for shot, doing a great job at replicating Kubrick’s style. This extends to the scenes taking place in the present day in the Overlook, with Flanagan going for Kubrick’s style over his own, which works in making a connection between this and Kubrick’s film. Even the establishing shots are done identically to how they were done in Kubrick’s film, which adds to both the brilliance of these scenes, but also the lack of identity this film has.
Overall, Doctor Sleep was a big disappointment for me. This could have been a great film, adding onto the legacy of Kubrick’s film, but Flanagan is unable to create the right balance between Kubrick and King to make this feel like its own thing. Ultimately though, I was just bored watching this and didn’t feel any real connection with the characters and world. This is a prime example to me of wasted potential.
My Rating: 2/5