Stephen King never ceases to surprise us.
Just when you think a story is too impossible to adapt, it gets a Netflix original film…or a television series…or an anthology project. That mantra goes for King’s own work too! We’re long removed from 1977’s The Shining (and the 1980 film by Stanley Kubrick), so when King decided to continue the story in 2013 with a grown-up Danny Torrance, the world was shocked. Even more so, we were shocked that it was good! Although I won’t say it with the same amount of enthusiasm, the film is mostly good too.
Director Mike Flanagan must have been incredibly stressed bringing Doctor Sleep to life. Kubrick’s film is not only iconic but meticulously shot by an auteur that’s considered one of the greatest cinematic presences that ever lived. Beyond that baggage, Flanagan had to complete the impossible task of mostly relying on the literary source material and tying it into the 1980 film at the same time, all without the help of a Jack Nicholson cameo everyone is waiting for and never comes.
It’s also a bit more out there. Although you could handwave a lot of The Shining as a “spooky house” motif, the actual psychic “shining” powers and front and center in Doctor Sleep. Ewan McGregor takes on the part of a grown-up Dan: better known as “Danny,” the young boy who was terrorized by his father, played by Nicholson in The Shining. As you can imagine Danny has a lot of baggage, carrying this cursed gift along with him, and we get to see Danny’s pain on screen over the course of the two and a half hour runtime in all its glory.
As usual McGregor is a pro, allowing us to empathize with the character without overacting or becoming too low energy. As even more crazy elements enter the picture (Rebecca Ferguson’s Rose, who feeds on people who possess the shining, and Kyliegh Curran’s Abra, a girl that Danny takes under his wing), we have to strap in and come along for the ride: or else. These three really run the circus that follows. This isn’t a cut and dried nostalgia-fest. Although the last act of Doctor Sleep is in the memorable Overlook Hotel, Danny is on his own journey here and the mood is strikingly different.
It can get dour at times, and the writing (Flanagan also handled the script) isn’t as razor-sharp as it should be in parts; especially near the end when it gets a little too bittersweet. Yet, tension and gravitas from McGregor, Ferguson and Curran carry us through the extremely lengthy runtime. Despite some weak points, one could feasibly watch The Shining and Doctor Sleep back to back, which is its own sort of success given that it’s been nearly 40 years between them.