‘Man takes a drink. A drink takes the drink. And then the drink takes a man…’
Stephen King is so ubiquitous at the moment that journalists are falling over themselves to publish think pieces with titles like Is There Too Much Stephen King Out There? The answer is no. There is never enough of the Kingmeister. Doctor Sleep is testament to that…
Combining one of King’s darkest books with red hot horror director Mike Flanagan and all round beautiful man Ewan McGregor was always going to be an exciting prospect. The project itself is a curious one, however. So. Doctor Sleep the book was a sequel to King’s novel The Shining which has nothing to do with Kubrick’s film adaptation because King hates it. Doctor Sleep the movie however, is an adaptation of King’s book that also serves as a direct sequel to Kubrick’s masterpiece. This does result in the film occasionally falling between two stools as its struggles between two very different but very brilliant artistic visions. Flanagan either struggles to convey or purposefully avoids the darkest aspects of the source material – with Dan Torrance’s horrendous struggle with alcoholism seemingly brushed over – but he doesn’t shy away from the hideous acts of child abuse perpetrated by The True Knot – a cult of steampunk vampires led by the spectacularly named Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson).
Flanagan shies away from the heartstopping jump scares that made his work on The Haunting of Hill House so memorable, and while this lessens some of the visceral impact compared to Flanagan’s other work, it does mean that he instead has the opportunity to let the unending cycle of evil that runs through both the True Knot and the Overlook Hotel really shine through (excuse the pun).
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Having said that, when the action eventually returns to the Overlook, it mostly falls flat. A misguided return for Jack Torrance, portrayed by a – quite frankly – shitty Jack Nicholson impersonator, is the films only major misstep, a real clanger, especially at such a vital moment in the movie.
Overall, Doctor Sleep must go down as a success. MacGregor is compelling as ever and Flanagan makes sense of some of the dafter elements of the story whilst still keeping things moving along and providing some scares along the way. It doesn’t come close to The Shining of course, but then, what the hell does?