Doctor Sleep movie review: A sequel to The Shining was always going to be a tough act to follow.
Doctor Sleep movie cast: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Zahn McClarnon
Doctor Sleep movie director: Mike Flanagan
Doctor Sleep movie rating: 2.5
More than horror itself, it was Jack Torrance’s descent into it that made The Shining special. Writer Stephen King may have held on to his displeasure with the film version of his novel, but it was the sinister, creeping mania that laced Stanley Kubrick’s movie and Jack Nicholson’s Torrance which lifted his terror into a role to remember.
A sequel to The Shining was always going to be a tough act to follow. To many fans of that book and the film, Doctor Sleep made its task even harder with a story about a vampire-like cult, feasting on the soul-like “steam” of people who have shining (or extrasensory) powers. The cult was unconvincing enough in the novel, and led by Ferguson’s Rosie the Hat in the film, its members are almost comical/non-sensical, not to say poor performers. Pitted against villains who float about in a state of hippy, silent vacuousness are McGregor’s Dan ‘Doc’ Torrance and Curran’s 13-year-old Abra. Dan has finally made some peace with the ghosts he lugs from the Overlook Hotel, helping people on the door of death at a hospice (hence the name ‘Doctor Sleep’), and Abra is excited like any teen at her newly realised powers of shining.
At more than two and a half hours, director Flanagan (who also directed King’s Gerald’s Game) is faithful to the book when a little distance may have been better, while breaking away from it in the most crucial parts. The result is an over-long, tedious effort with hardly any genuine scares, unnecessarily grisly scenes, till ultimately the film pays an overdue obeisance to the Kubrick version.
In return to The Shining’s indelible hotel, the film only ends up reinforcing Doctor Sleep as a poor successor — with a Nicholson-lookalike popping up and making McGregor look more ineffectual than he needs to. King, who features in the film’s end credits, has been vocal in his support for this screen version. Even that may be an acknowledgement of how Kubrick burnished The Shining.
There are flashes of ambitiousness in Doctor Sleep, particularly in its suggestion that there may be more to the 13-year-old Abra’s steely cool in the face of death than a desire for good. And even in its talk of the world being a “hungry place”, full of “dark forces” — which ultimately goes nowhere. The best thing about Doctor Sleep though is Abra, with newcomer Curran — wan and hurt in parts, vain and exultant in others — shimmering enough on that grey zone between good and bad to suggest what often lies on the other side of a shining: a dark side.