It’s been a couple of weeks now since Doctor Sleep hit cinemas and as the steam dissipates I’m left in a bit of a quandary.
There seems to be some mixed reviews out there and some pushing into the negative which quite frankly stumped me as I thought it was a well composed and structured movie with plenty of heart and some strong characters for the audience to engage with.
So why the backlash?
The answer to this is simple and it’s to do with that giant sized elephant in the room, which is called Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.
Without doubt this film was a masterpiece and helmed by one of the greatest directors ever.
His vision was unique and his interpretation of Stephen King’s novel while not appreciated by the originator has been widely received by the horror community.
Those who have read King’s novel though will know that it is vastly different from what was initially conceived and plays more like a man with a severe case of cabin fever and the supernatural elements are considerably downplayed.
From my perspective I always loved both versions and viewed them as part of a parallel universe, where Kubrick splintered away from the source material and created a movie that looked at the kernel horror that humanity can display.
So when it was announced that Mike Flanagan was to direct a sequel to The Shining, he faced a conundrum.
How would he place the film considering that there are two versions to draw inspiration from.
It was a tough task, but he decided to amalgamate the two infused with a vision of his own.
This was both masterful and his undoing for it would inevitably divide his audience from those devoted to Kubrick’s world and those eager to see new life in the much older Danny Torrance.
It feels to me that audiences have been clouded (by no fault of their own) by Kubrick’s vision and have neglected the source material in King’s novel, Doctor Sleep; a story that embodies the supernatural and belongs more in the sci-fi fantasy world than that of horror.
As such, hardcore horror fans will be left wanting, but I believe Flanagan has been incredibly faithful to King’s tale and added a little Kubrick kink to harness these two worlds and the end result is highly engaging and captivating, proving that he is possibly the best craftsmen working in the industry today.
Much like King, Flanagan knows how to spin a tale and in doing, allows the characters to really shine in the movie.
If there was one part that jarred with me, it was in the opening few scenes that painted a younger Danny with his mother (Not Shelley Duvall) in order to lay the foundations of how he suppressed his shining and keeps the ‘entities’ of the Overlook Hotel from feeding from his energy by containing them in boxes within his mind.
The minor quibble is in that it is clearly different from the actors we connected with the story from Kubrick’s The Shining, but there is no real way around this without CGI technology to capture the original actors in the younger form. As I stated it’s a minor criticism, and its also necessary to set the scene.
Once we move away from this we’re introduced to the characters proper – the older, washed out Danny (Ewan McGregor) who try as he might is destined to walk in his fathers’ footsteps and has succumbed to alcoholism. He eventually arrives at a small town in New Hampshire and settles down thanks to a new friend, Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis) who also becomes his AA sponsor and helps him on his new path of sobriety, but in doing so, his shining becomes stronger.
We’re also introduced to some amazing characters in the True Knot (who deserve a spin off series in their own right) a collection of people who feed off the steam (energy) of those who shine.
Possibly the most harrowing component from a viewers perspective is that they tend to hone in on children as their shine is stronger.
The scene where they lure Bradley, (a kid who is travelling home from his baseball game) to his demise is particularly striking.
Led by Rose The Hat (Rebbeca Ferguson), who is the strongest of the group and the lead antagonist in Danny’s epic and climactic confrontation.
Other standouts from the group are Crow Daddy (Zahn McClarnon), who serves as the lead predator and a wise figure in the group, the elder Grandpa Flick (Carel Struycken), and their newest addition Snakebite Annie (Emily Alyn Lind) who has the ability to use hypnosis to lure her victims and deserved much longer screen time.
And finally there’s Abra (Kyleigh Curren), a girl with an incredibly strong shining and when her presence becomes known to the True Knot, she must seek help from Danny, whilst channeling her own powers.
The fact that both King and in return Flanagan pay so much time and dedication in building the background to these characters serves as Doctor Sleep’s masterstroke.
We’re allowed to care for all of the characters and in doing so, fall deeper into the narrative and are driven to follow them on their journey to their conclusion.
Flanagan is faced with a difficult task in infusing both King and Kubrick’s Shining worlds to create a highly-entertaining sequel.
It is filled with the supernatural and characters that shine beyond the screen, whilst providing an engaging narrative with a more than satisfying conclusion.
There will be the doubters, but for this reviewer, Flanagan has created another little gem that proves that he is a masterful storyteller and possibly the best of our generation. I can’t wait to see which story he generates next as I will definitely be at the front of the queue.
Check out our podcast and further thoughts on Doctor Sleep here:
- Saul Muerte