The Shining is on the list. You know the list. E.T is on there. So is Ferris Bueller. Back To The Future is at the very top. It’s the list of properties Hollywood studios just can’t touch.
The difference between The Shining and the rest of those 80s standards is the source material. Sure, Stanley Kubrick didn’t stick to Stephen King’s tome with a great deal of fidelity, much to the author’s chagrin, but King always had the power to revisit the Torrance family, if not the Overlook Hotel (in one of many differences between novel and film, the hotel wasn’t standing at the end of the former) and in doing so, give justification for following up one of the most perfectly fashioned films ever committed to celluloid.
With King’s book sequel, Doctor Sleep, he follows directly from the events that saw the Overlook blow up. Danny (now calling himself Dan) and his mother have escaped, convalesced and attempted to move on. Fast forward to adulthood, and Dan (Ewan McGregor) is still haunted by ghosts of his past, dousing them with alcohol and moving from town to town.
Like the original story, King’s book is far heavier on the fantasy elements. While not ignoring the ghostly occurrences at The Overlook entirely, Kubrick kept the reasoning for that stuff at arm’s length. After all, Jack Torrance may have been destined to go mad all along.
But here, the plot revolves around multiple characters who ‘shine’, particularly a band of travellers who feast on death and pain in order to prolong their lives. Something that inevitably leads them to Dan – and his new friend, Abra (Kyliegh Curran) a young girl who possesses the strongest psychic abilities of the lot.
Unlike Kubrick, Flanagan can’t ignore the mysticism. It’s too central to the plot. This is a ghost movie first and foremost. It’s about ghosts – living and dead, literal and figurative – which makes the job of adapting Doctor Sleep for the screen an incredible challenge for director Mike Flanagan, who is attempting to follow Kubrick’s masterpiece, and King’s fantasy-heavy story.
Indeed, King’s more out-there tales don’t always translate to screen, something Kubrick knew all too well (and King refuses to accept, hence his own attempts to script a forgettable Shining adaptation for TV back in the 90s), and at times Dr Sleep goes too literal, filling in motives that were absent in the far more ambiguous original. Thus it borders on the ridiculous, fortunately, without ever quite crossing over.
Delving into Kubrick’s style is daring and fun for both audience and filmmaker alike and Flanagan achieves it with requisite deference. When references and revisits to The Shining occur they’re done with impressive style – and restraint – and Doctor Sleep is a success because Flanagan and his cinematographer Michael Fimognari have the ability to create their own moments. Their own visual style.
Dan and Abra’s psychic connections are smartly realised. The horrifying moments are fleeting and expertly executed, aided by a perfectly pitched cast. In particular, Curran, an astonishingly talented young actor, and Rebecca Ferguson, whose villain’s menace stems from performance rather than script, which doesn’t quite make the bad guys enough of a threat to ever make the good guys feel in genuine peril.
It’s a minor quibble, for when the ghosts get out of the box Doctor Sleep, well, shines, and Flanagan and his team achieve a task long-thought impossible by remaining respectful of an untouchable original, while reinventing the world in which it took place. It turns out Hollywood found a way after all.