So how audacious do you have to be to try and take a crack at a sequel to The Shining? It was bold when King himself tried it, six years back, with the publication of Doctor Sleep. The original novel, written decades ago, is perhaps the single most beautiful bit of prose that the author ever concocted and when Kubrick adapted the novel King threw…well…calling it a hissy fit would be generous. The auteur never understood King’s book and the author never understood Kubrick’s film, each telling a different story with the same skeleton of an idea. The sequel (the novel) took the initiative to attempt to wipe the film off the map and do things that wouldn’t fit into that same world. Now, all these years later, we join Dan Torrence as he returns to the Overlook Hotel (that’s not a spoiler, it’s in every single piece of marketing).
Doctor Sleep, directed by Mike Flanagan and starring Ewan McGregor, leaps forward in time as Dan Torrence (McGregor) struggles to overcome his issues with not only lingering horror but the addictions of his father. Jack Torrence suffered from a severe addiction to alcohol, something Dan finds himself in the grips of, and it’s only through the power of an understanding new friend that he finds his way into a stable life. See, he finds work as an orderly at a hospice. There’s this cat, you have to understand, named Azrael. This fluffy bugger will enter the rooms of those about to die and crawl up to lay with them as they go. One night, like many others, Dan follows the cat into a room and winds up using his “shine” to comfort a dying individual. He becomes known through the hospice as “Doctor Sleep,” the man with the cat that eases the dying into their rest.
There’s also a psychic teenager and a caravan of vampires living in RVs. Just don’t forget that (not that you could, the main vampire is played by Rebecca Ferguson).
This is far from a perfect film but I love it all the same, each piece of it trying to make Kubrick and King shake hands. Some of the beautiful visual imagery from the original film finds its way into Flanagan’s shots (okay so it didn’t so much “find its way” as it was just blatantly homaged). The director has also found ways to make scenes from the book, ones that could not occur in a sequel to the film, somehow work and remain existent. We get to have our cake and eat it too.
These visuals I’ve mentioned, while impressive in their recreation of classic shots, are where I start having trouble. Mike Flanagan has done such films as Gerald’s Game, Hush, and the TV series The Haunting of Hill House. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that his new film looks like the best-shot Netflix film to date because…well, that’s what he knows. Tone and pacing are spot-on but the imagery flips between looking like expensive television (and is blocked to look like that) or is downright photocopying The Shining. It created an uncomfortable feeling to the look of the whole film, something only barely cinematic coupled with an unholy amount of unoriginality.
Don’t discount the guy, though, because like I said the tone and pacing are badass. The film moves quickly for being over two and a half hours, somehow sleek and efficient in its clumsy execution. Cards on the table – I’m a huge fan of the novel. Seeing so many great things from it brought to life onscreen was fun, but there’s more than that to this affair.
The climax and finale are quite different in the film than the novel, taking some disgustingly bold risks that pay off pretty damn well. I think a lot of the internal sensation that made the book’s finale what it was just fell flat in the writer’s room, leading us to what we’ve got now. It’s a daring thing, trying to tie the same story in two different mediums up onscreen, but it manages to work. There are moments involved that feel like something I would have loved to see on a miniseries with more thought behind them but I’ll happily take this.
Folks, this ain’t perfect. It is, however, lovingly crafted and beautifully put together. This is coming from someone that truly enjoyed the book this film is based on. Not exactly horror, more of a dark fantasy, but a good time all the same. It takes some daring risks in what it changes but I think everything worked out in the end. This may piss off some fans of the book but…ah hell, I liked it.
Doctor Sleep went wide tonight and is currently in theatres virtually everywhere.