I don't envy Mike Flanagan, the director tasked with adapting Stephen King's underrated 2013 novel, Doctor Sleep, itself a sequel to his seminal The Shining. The story, picking up decades later, follows a now-adult Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) battling his own demons, both literal and figurative: He's still haunted by his experience at the Overlook Hotel, and some of its more iconic inhabitants. Moreover, he's turned to the sauce to dull his extraordinary "Shine." Lonely, afraid, and at rock bottom, he retreats to a small town in New Hampshire (not quite Maine but close enough for King's comfort) and takes up a job at a hospice where he earns the nickname Doctor Sleep, due to his uncanny ability to be around for his patients' final moments and bring them comfort. It's a quiet life, until he starts receiving mysterious psychic messages from a small girl in a nearby town with more shine than anyone's ever shone. And she's being hunted by vampires who feed on psychic kids.
That's a whole lot of classic King goofiness to worry about adapting for the big screen before you even factor in the Kubrick-sized elephant in the room. His film version of The Shining is widely regarded as one of the best the horror genre's ever had, only Stephen King himself doesn't like the film all that much, going as far as saying he didn't find it scary in his author's notes for Doctor Sleep.
All this is to say, Oculus and Gerald's Game director Flanagan had a hell of a job on his hands in navigating both the expectations of those expecting a Shining movie follow-up and respecting the new path and story King explores in the novel. The answer? He handles it pretty damn well, all things considered. Doctor Sleep is effectively creepy and will sate fans on either side of the Kubrick/King debate. But for all its technical successes, Doctor Sleep still falls at some basic hurdles while it ably leaps some of the more complicated ones. Spoilers ahead.
McGregor's recovering alcoholic Danny is a troubled man, but even with a 2 hour, 20-minute film preceding this one explaining the baseline of his darkness, the character's pain feels muddled, his guilt coming from a few different angles never fully explored. Recovery and the legacy of familial abuse are two of King's most considered themes, and neither gets time enough to see Danny's trauma as much more than a narrative device. We spend a couple of glancing flashbacks with his (now dead) mother, perhaps as simple exposition, perhaps to just boast that, holy shit, Alex Essoe really does look like a young Shelley Duvall in those flashbacks.
Better is the story of Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran) and the undead cult desperate to get their hands on her "steam" (the energy that psychic children release when they're being tortured and killed). The True Knot, as the traveling band of vampires call themselves, is led by Rose (Rebecca Ferguson) who is all at once terrifying, charismatic, beguiling, and fallible. She's a fantastic King villain, made better by Ferguson's career-best performance and her continued underestimations of Abra. it makes her more than just an evil cipher for the plot to run through. Rose's cockiness to a fault only makes her more dangerous, more unpredictable the angrier she gets as her attempts to find and capture Abra fail time and again. Newcomer Curran is good as Abra, whose powers far outmatch Danny's even as a young boy. It's a testament to her, and Flanagan, who has a good track record with young actors, that she isn't asked to do too much, to be too otherworldly or precocious. In this well-realized world, there's not a single character who rings false, and the first two-thirds of the movie are a blast because of it.
It's when the duties of the film to deliver a final showdown at the Overlook do things fall apart quite a bit. The iconic hotel, geometric carpet and all, burn down in King's original novel, but it's still standing in this hybrid world, and so, of course, we must end there again. Doctor Sleep is perhaps too reverent of Kubrick's forbearer, repeating several key set pieces and sequences, reintroducing all the classic ghosts, and, yes, that bartender is back and let's just say he has a... new look, one meant specifically to mess with Danny.
The inevitable ghostly cameo should have extended to the hotel itself. Instead, we spend a good half an hour-plus in there to close out the film. And while Flanagan delivers an ending that sort of respects King's book and rhymes with The Shining's filmed conclusion, it all feels quite forced. At its heart, this is a film about a son rejecting his destiny to become his ghoulish father and forge his own path. It's a shame Doctor Sleep doesn't have the guts to do the same.
In the new sequel to The Shining, the actress plays the chilling, cunning, mesmerizing Rose the Hat.
Originally Appeared on GQ