Dir. Mike Flanagan
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Cliff Curtis, Kyliegh Curran,
This summer I was lucky enough to visit The Design Museum and see their wonderful exhibition on Stanley Kubrick. Amongst the items they had on display from the Kubrick archives was an original manuscript of Stephen King’s The Shining, complete with margin notes from Stanley Kubrick. It also had a quote from Kubrick explaining that he liked the novel because it went deeper into the psychological aspects of Jack Torrance, and wasn’t just about the supernatural. Kubrick’s film adaptation has gone on to be a horror masterpiece, whilst Stephen King has publicly voiced his outrage at the changes that Kubrick made whilst adapting his novel for the screen. So when director Mike Flanagan took on the task of adapting Doctor Sleep, Sutephen King’s sequel to The Shining, he had a tough job on his hands, pleasing both Stephen King and fans of Stanley Kubrick’s seminal masterpiece.
As you may have already guessed, I’m a big fan of Kubrick’s movies, but I’m also a huge Stephen King fan. I love The Shining, both book and film, even going as far as having Jack Torrance being the only Pop! Vinyl figure I own, and choosing blinds for the spare room based on the pattern being the same as The Overlooks carpet. I’d also read Doctor Sleep the moment it was released, and had thoroughly enjoyed it. The tone of the book Doctor Sleep is very different from The Shining. It’s here that Flanagan faces his biggest challenge, melding together the tone of Kubrick’s movie, with the tone of King’s sequel. It’s a feat that Flanagan achieves with ease. Following on directly from the incidents of The Shining, Doctor Sleep then jumps forwards to the modern day where Danny Torrance is now a grown man and recovering alcoholic, still haunted by the events at The Overlook Hotel. He has tried to hide his shine for years, but soon comes out of hiding when Abra, a young girl with a lot of shine, is targeted by a group known as The True Knot, vampires who feed off the steam of young children with The Shining.
As a pure adaptation of a novel, Doctor Sleep is fantastic. It’s largely faithful to the book, and brings out the best in everything I love about King’s writing. There’s a slight alteration in terms of the style of storytelling. This film is far more linear than King’s book, but for the first two thirds of the movie, this is beat for beat the book I read years ago. Flanagan is fast gaining a reputation for adapting horror novels, with The Haunting Of Hill House bringing the classic novel into the modern age, and now this film. It’s clear to see that he loves the source material that he is working from.
Flanagan also excels in bringing together a fantastic cast. Ewan McGregor is perfect casting for the older Danny Torrance. Bringing a desperation and melancholy to the role. Whilst the young Kyliegh Curran is amazing in a difficult role, one scene in particular where she channels Danny is a great showcase of her talents. Best of all though is Rebecca Ferguson, as Rose The Hat, named for the hat she wears. Rose is the leader of the True Knot, and Ferguson is completely captivating as the main villain of the piece. In fact, the True Knot are all genuinely terrifying.
From Occulus, to The Haunting Of Hill House, and now Doctor Sleep, Flanagan’s films have always dealt with the horror of death, and the question of what lies beyond. In this respect the ghosts of The Overlook are never truly scary in this film, they are there for our characters to come to terms with death. Flanagan’s films suggest that genuinely good people do not have to worry about what comes next. The True Knot on the other hand, are not good. They are most definitely bad, and because of this they fear death above all else. It’s this fear which drives them to torture and kill kids with The Shining for the steam they give off. They feed off of it like a pack of animals, and Flanagan does not shy away from the brutality of their crimes. In a stand-out sequence, they torture and kill a young baseball player, played by the incredibly talented Jacob Tremblay, and in this one sequence Flanagan makes you truly hate and despise the True Knot.
Their agency is the driving force of the movie, and is what sets the difference of tone. The Shining is a psychological horror, and Doctor Sleep is a vampire movie. It’s in the final act of the film that Flanagan manages to deftly merge these two tones into a cohesive one. Bringing everything to a satisfying conclusion which will please both fans of Kubrick’s film and Stephen Kings novel. If the film falters at all it’s in the slightly slow pacing, and the casting of lookalikes to play characters from The Shining. After seeing such fantastic CGI and de-aging techniques in recent films, it is slightly off putting to have an actress who kind of looks like Shelly Duvall.
As a Kubrick and King fan this film was everything I could have hoped it to be, and whilst it doesn’t quite deliver the scares of Kubrick’s classic, this is still expert storytelling which manages to tie together the style of two distinctive masters.