You’ve got to give it to Mike Flanagan the creator behind the Netflix Original series "The Haunting of Hill House." It takes a lot of audacity to tackle Stephen King’s 2013 sequel to “The Shining” and follow up Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror classic, which we all know King despised. But the writer-director approaches the material with respect thus delivering a worthy adaption of King’s novel and a sequel that holds up to Kubrick’s film without relying on its strength. “Doctor Sleep” stands its ground as it “shiningly” avoids shortcuts to make this more than just a satisfying sequel.
“Doctor Sleep” walks a tightrope between King’s novel and Kubrick’s film as it drops enough references to keep fans of the 1980 film appeased without offending King devotees. As the film opens with the ominous score by The Netwon Brothers it reminds us that we are about enter hallowed ground as it incorporates elements of the iconic composition by Wendy Carlos from “The Shining.” There are more elements from Kubrick’s film in Flanagan’s follow up, but they are used sporadically until The Overlook Hotel enters the narrative like a benched VIP called into the game to bring home the win.
Flanagan is so meticulous when it comes to recreating Kubrick’s world that the opening shot of little Danny Torrance riding his Big Wheel through the halls of The Overlook on that famous orange, red, and brown carpet resembles beautifully restored never-before-seen footage. As he stops cycling in front of the hotel’s infamous Room 237 we see that it’s not actor Danny Lloyd from the 1980 film and then realize that we are not watching old footage. Roger Dale Floyd is the actor that plays the young Danny in the recreated scene.
It would have been very easy to edit in flashback scenes from Kubrick’s film but Flanagan’s choice to opt for painstaking recreations was a wise choice because the writer-director pulls it off so well. The only scene that wasn’t recreated for “Doctor Sleep” was the river of blood spewing out of The Overlook’s elevators. It proved to be too hard to recreate and Flanagan, in another wise move, chose to shy away from CGI effects which have become the norm for most horror films. In the hands of another director we may have seen CGI versions of Jack Nicholson and Shelly Duvall especially since it was recently announced that a computer-generated James Dean will be featured in the upcoming movie “Finding Jack.” Here we have new actors who look close enough to the stars of “The Shining” but don’t necessarily mimic them.
The focus of Flanagan’s film and King’s novel is a grown-up Danny Torrance, referred to as “Dan” and played by Ewan McGregor. Now in his 40s, Dan’s life is fueled by alcohol, drugs, and sex. The nightmares of his youth still haunt him, but Dan has learned how to use his psychic gift or “shine” to lock away the monsters from his past thanks to the ghost of Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly) who met his fate at the end of Jack’s axe in Kubrick’s film but survived in King’s book.
Not used to the kindness of strangers, Dan’s life takes a turn for the better once he moves to Frazier, New Hampshire where he’s befriended by local Billy Freeman (a very good Cliff Curtis), who has good instincts about people, and Dr. John (Bruce Greenwood) who gets Dan a job working for Hospice where his shine comes in handy helping ease the patients into a restful slumber before crossing over, hence “Doctor Sleep.”
Eventually Dan crosses paths with a group of vampire-like individuals called The True Knot who feast on children with shine in order to prolong their lives and amp up their psychic powers. Their leader, Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson from the “Mission Impossible” films), who dresses like Stevie Nicks, uses her powerful abilities to lure victims so that the clan can feast on the “steam” or lifeforce of their captors as it escapes from their bodies.
One of the strongest performances in the film comes from 13-year old Kyliegh Curran from Atlanta. She may be new to cinema, but the teenager has been acting half of her life most recently on Broadway as young Nala in “The Lion King.”
Curran plays Abra Stone, a young physic with abilities that rival Dan’s. She picks up telepathic signals that unveil the horrible crimes being committed by The True Knot and it’s those same abilities that lead her to Dan as the two set out to stop Rose the Hat and her pseudo-immortal vampires.
McGregor, Ferguson, and Curran are the foundation of Flanagan’s film as the trio breathe life into King’s characters. It’s only in the final act that “Doctor Sleep” feels like it’s riding Kubrick’s coattails but that’s only because of the familiar setting. For the entire 151-minute run time Flanagan is walking a tightrope between King and Kubrick as he attempts to fuse the 1980 film and the author's novels into one cohesive piece. He not only succeeds but does so with flying colors. Fans of either or both should leave the theater feeling satisfied. A fitting tribute to the material by a talented filmmaker who gets it.
(3 ½ stars)