Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep ★★★½

When it was announced that modern horror favourite Mike Flanagan had been handed the keys to Stephen King’s sequel to The Shining, one could only be cautiously optimistic about the prospect. Flanagan has proven quite dexterous in his work, providing a host of successful horror in his short career, and even taken to poisoned chalices as prospered greatly. However on the other hand, he’s a horror filmmaker that plays greatly by the handbook, and Doctor Sleep has a mighty shadow cast over it by it’s predecessor.

The creative conflict is one that is married onscreen. Stanley Kubrick famously threw out King’s novel in favour of placing his own internal fears at the forefront, almost essentially gutting it from it’s original intentions. Whilst Flanagan’s approach to the sequel is different, coming from a place of admiration of both King’s writing and Kubrick’s direction, he attempts to bring the two together in a way that perhaps struggles to fit.

Following on thirty to fourth years after the original, Danny Torrance has shut himself away from his “shining” abilities after the events of the Overlook hotel continue to haunt him. Overcome with trauma and a victim to Alcohol abuse, he looks for a new start. However after he comes across a teenager girl with similar abilities who a dangerous group of supernatural killers on her track, he finds himself having to face past demons once again.

The film admittedly begins on a particularly bad foot, after a cold open that feels at home with Flanagan’s body of work, we immediately go to a sequences recreating Kubrick’s work. It’s a jarring decision that doesn’t gel, we have an actress that is doing an impression of Shelley Duval where that sense of performance doesn’t feel at home with Flanagan’s style. Luckily for the most part after this, the action stays away from the original movie, but it’s the perfect example of what holds the film back.

It feels apparent throughout that Flanagan’s perception of Kubrick’s The Shining is that it’s a restraint. Flanagan enjoys to go big on scares, where as the original film is rather suggestive and psychological. Throw in the King novel which doubles down on the supernatural aspects and Flanagan almost feels like he’s painting with one hand tied behind his back instead of taking charge.

What Flanagan has managed to do here however, is streamlined both visions into quite a consumable piece. It is more a blockbuster thrill ride than the original film, it’s a state-hopping cat and mouse thriller with some wacky telekinesis action once it gets past it’s over extended first act. Heck there’s a shoot out in this film and you certainly wouldn’t have that in the Kubrick film. And once you reach the final act, the film has finally found it’s balance of creative forces, although Flanagan has by then become completely voiceless driver.

There’s almost a sense that I’d wished Doctor Sleep has been able to completely severe it’s ties to pop culture and managed to become it’s own thing entirely. Having scenes of Rebecca Ferguson’s hatted villain float through the stars feel completely alien in context of it’s predecessor. And of course, there’s the elephant in the room that Doctor Sleep has far less subtlety about it’s core ideas that makes it feel like an unbalanced expansion. I think those coming in from having read King’s novel will take to it more than those expecting a sequel to The Shining, but it is difficult to overlook it’s origins.

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