When I interviewed director Mike Flanagan and producer Trevor Macy around the release of their 2017 Stephen King adaptation Gerald’s Game I asked them what was next. The reply was cryptic at best “We have a couple of other things cooking too but it’s a bit too premature to talk about them” they said “I think it’s absolutely fair to say we would love to do more with Stephen King.”
Two years later their answer became clearer and out came Doctor Sleep an adaptation of Stephen King’s 2014 sequel to The Shining produced by Trevor Macy and written and directed by Mike Flanagan. King’s original novel came out in 1977 to huge acclaim with the prolific author leaving fans waiting over 35 years to find out the fate of Danny Torrance, his mother and the ominous Overlook Hotel.
The pairing of Flanagan with another of King’s works especially such a poignant and high profile one seemed perfect seeing as King had called Gerald’s Game “Hypnotic, horrifying and terrific.” In my interview with him Flanagan had said to me “I was so nervous about disappointing him and he’s so hard on his own adaptations it’s no secret what he thought of what Kubrick did to The Shining so I was petrified.”
With that quote in mind the worry I had before watching Doctor Sleep was that Flanagan would pay too much respect to the well-loved writer producing a moving carbon copy of the book which I myself had found slightly uninspiring and insipid when I read it.
Thankfully in bringing Doctor Sleep to life Flanagan has made a sequel not only to Stephen King’s original novel but also to Stanley Kubrick film, understanding that both are equally important when it comes to continuing The Shining’s story on screen. As such Doctor Sleep is a spectacularly sinister movie opening in 1980 a few years after the horrifying finale of Kubrick’s masterpiece with Danny living in Florida with his mother.
Still haunted by the evil inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel his mentor and supernatural manifestation Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly) teaches the gifted young boy how to lock away the spiteful spirits in his mind to stop them troubling him but as we flash forward to 2011 we see that the older more disillusioned Dan (Ewan McGregor) has found another way to hide from the trauma of the past, at the bottom of a bottle.
Finding himself in a small town and attempting to clean his life up and start again his peace is punctured by the presence of another even more powerful person who reaches out and contacts him. Teenager Abra (Kyliegh Curran) possesses a ‘shine’ even brighter than Dan’s and sensing a kindred spirit she communicates with him using her exceptional extrasensory gift.
However her ability has attracted the attention of a much darker and malevolent force, that of The True Knot, a collection of merciless men and women with talents like Dan and Abra’s who feed off others like them to gain immortality. Lead by Rose the Hat (Mission: Impossible’s Rebecca Ferguson) the cruel cult, who have been killing and feasting on the life force of children, are now seeking a much larger food source to keep them alive for aeons to come all of which makes Abra their next meal.
Mike Flanagan’s script is gripping and wonderfully well told packing in as much as possible from the original novel while still crafting his own vision and keeping the audience thoroughly engaged. With visual and stylistic nods to Stanley Kubrick’s movie throughout the film never slips into sycophantic cinema introducing elements from The Shining at exactly the right moments to infuse the overall experience rather than detract from Doctor Sleep as its own entity.
The trinity of main characters are brilliantly brought to life through the story and the acting with each of their evolutions expertly done. As the central villain Rebecca Ferguson’s Rose is shown doing some shockingly disturbing things in her selfish quest for survival however she has moments when she is almost sympathetic especially when the freaky fucked up family she has gathered around her are threatened.
Kyliegh Curran is a huge talent portraying the terrifyingly powerful teenager Abra as an inquisitive and innocent figure who also has the potential to turn to the dark side if she is not encouraged otherwise. Finally as the grown up and severely traumatised Dan Ewan McGregor remains relatable never plunging into self-pity, which would have been easily done given the storyline, and his ark of redemption is a potent piece of storytelling taking us back to where it all began so he can finally face his demons and his Dad.
Overall though huge credit must go to the masterful Mike Flanagan whose deft direction and superb script skills transform Doctor Sleep into so much more than it could have been. An excellent horror film with a tension filled plot line and pitch perfect performances Doctor Sleep will satisfy fans of Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick alike which is no mean feat.