“The film is a perfect companion piece to The Shining including extremely welcome nods to what’s gone before”
The film adaptations of horror writer Stephen King have a varied history quality-wise. There are the great (Carrie, Christine, Misery etc) up to the bad (The Dark Tower, the original Pet Semetary). I must admit, I’m not a big fan of ‘The Shining‘. Many people think it is a fantastic film with great performances and consider it one of the best horror films ever made. I sadly think it’s one of the most boring horror films ever. Despite great performances from Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall and of course, has some of the best dialogue and a great ad-lib by Nicholson and one stand out moment, it does nothing for me. I can’t seem to put my finger on what I can’t enjoy about it but for some strange reason, I think its completely overrated. So with this in mind, I attended a press screening of the sequel, ‘Doctor Sleep‘. Would it fall into the ‘bad’ category and be a major disappointment or would it be one of the better adaptations of a King Book?
Doctor Sleep | Warner Bros. Pictures
Thankfully, the film is wonderful. Once again, it is a slow burn but this time, I was hooked from the opening frames. It is long, running at 153 minutes but every second is vital to the plot and the eventual climax. With great performances from Ewan McGregor and Rebecca Ferguson, the film never once outstays its welcome and proves to be a gripping, thrilling and spine chilling film from the start. The standout performance, however, comes in the shape of young actress Kyliegh Curran as Abra Stone, a young girl who possesses the shining just as McGregor’s character Dan Torrence does. Her power in the film is stronger than Dan’s and Curran fits the role to perfection. We both cheer for, feel fear for and are genuinely scared of her character, sometimes all at the same time. It is an acting performance that in my mind is deserving of an Oscar nomination come awards season.
BEWARE-SOME MILD SPOILERS WILL BE INCLUDED!!
The film opens with a flashback to the events of the original film. We follow young Danny Torrence at the climax of The Shining as he cycles around the interior of the Outlook Hotel to be confronted by the twin girls in the corridor. We then move to a lake during the same period. Here, we discover a young child who is walking through the woods to pick some flowers for her mother. At the edge of the lake, she encounters a woman who goes by the name of Rose The Hat (Ferguson). At first, Rose is friendly and charming, showing the young girl some magic tricks. But as she does this, a group of adults start to appear, blocking the young girl’s path away from Rose. The group starts to converge on her and as she attempts to leave, is prevented by Rose as the others close in. Rose is the leader of a group of people called ‘The True Knot’, a cult who survive by drinking in ‘The Steam’, the power released by people gifted with the shining. They suck in this ‘Steam’ to remain youthful and alive, having lived for generations by preying on people with psychic powers. As you can suspect, the encounter doesn’t end well for the young child.
We move forward quite a few years. Danny now goes simply by the name of Dan (Ewan McGregor). He is an alcoholic, drinking to overcome his memories regarding his past with his father and his abilities. His days are filled with getting drunk and starting fights. However, one day, Dan decides enough is enough and attempts to turn his life around. As we move forward to the present day, Dan has moved to a small town, started to attend the local alcoholics anonymous and has a job running the train ride located in the town’s park. He no longer uses his abilities until one fateful night when he is attracted to enter the room at a local elderly care facility by the facility’s cat. The cat seems to know when a person will die and goes in to lie on their bed and comfort them as they pass on. As Dan sits alongside the elderly man, the dying gentleman tells Dan he is scared of death. Dan puts his hand on the dying man’s arm and psychically tells him everything will be alright, relaxing the man and his fears so he can die peacefully. Dan does this a few times, earning him the nickname of ‘Doctor Sleep’.
Dan has finally found the peace he has been searching for years. Until Abra (Curran) somehow manages to get in contact with him. Along with the soul and the vision of the long-departed Outlook cook, Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly, taking over from the late Scatman Crothers) and his urging to reuse his gift again, Dan forms a psychic friendship with Abra. All is well until one night when Abra psychically witnesses Rose and her cult abduct and ritualistically murder a young teen baseball player who possesses the shining. Rose feels Abra’s presence although she can’t see her. Abra contacts Dan to inform him of what she has seen and where the cult has buried the boy’s body, leading Dan and his friend, Billy (Cliff Curtis) into a road trip to find the murdered boy and Dan has to reveal his secret to a disbelieving Billy. All the while, Rose has felt Abra and her power and sets out to find her to harness her ‘Steam’, a power unlike her or her group have ever encountered before, a power that could sustain them for years and in the process, make Rose the most powerful psychic ever. After several incidents, Dan and Abra must return once more to The Outlook for a final confrontation.
The film, although not overly scary does contain some jump scares throughout. For once, most of them are not telegraphed in advance, leading the audience further down the rabbit hole until we are made to jump. The scares are masterfully handled but its the deft way director Mike Flanagan handles proceedings that land the film with a distinct advantage over 99% of the current crop of scary movies. As I said, the film is a slow burn but it pulls you along for the ride and entwines the viewer to such a degree that we can’t help but buckle in for the ride, even though we know we will be going to places we don’t want to go. Some of the scenes from The Shining have been recreated for this sequel, with new actors portraying the roles previously filled by Nicholson and Duvall. For the casual viewer, these won’t distract from the film too much but for me, having been there when the original film was released, it did take me out of the film slightly but that is a minor quibble over the events portrayed on the screen. It does help if you have seen the original film as several sequences do require the audience to have some knowledge of prior events to get the full picture and enjoyment from the film.
The most frightening sequence concerns the murder of the young boy. Jacob Tremblay (Room, Good Boys) plays him in what amounts to be a small cameo role. Despite the role only being a small but vital one, Tremblay wrings the emotion out of the audience brutally. To see a young child tortured and murdered so barbarically onscreen is completely uncomfortable viewing but we find ourselves unable to tear our eyes from the film. We expect something to happen that will save the child but nothing does. We have to witness every bit of emotion, of pain and suffering he goes through to such an extent, we find ourselves digging our fingernails into our seat or our armrest. It is uncompromising and raw. And underlines the depths this group will go to in their bid to stay alive.
The film looks and sounds amazing, all the colours are vibrant, dazzling and leap off the screen. The sound mix is one of the best I’ve heard for quite a while, no little background sound goes unnoticed. The score for the film by The Newton Brothers is exemplary, bringing new music to the film while using certain pieces from the original film to fantastic effect, complementing the original’s score to perfection. The production design has recreated the Overlook hotel both externally and internally to a tee.
The film attempts to atone for what Stephen King disliked from Stanley Kubrick’s version of his book and to a major extent, it manages to pull it off. King over the years has voiced his displeasure at how his novel was filmed by Kubrick back in 1980 and his total hatred of the final film. Flanagan here makes some bold choices, using Kubrick’s earlier work as a template and paying homage to the director and his work while forging his own vision, one that King himself is impressed and happy with. Flanagan has pulled off an impossible trick, not only pleasing King but also pleasing the Kubrick estate by making a film that runs alongside the original while it makes its own path and tracks, pulling off a balancing act that is a revelation in itself. And the film is a perfect companion piece to The Shining including extremely welcome nods to what’s gone before.
By the time the end credits roll, we have been on a journey that has scared us, drained us and has horrified us. But it’s a journey that is worth taking nonetheless. McGregor, Ferguson, Curran and Flanagan have crafted a film that will entertain the audience while playing on their fear and will invoke memories of the older generation for the first time they sat down and watched the original movie. The resurgence in the quality of films based on King’s books is in full flow and ‘Doctor Sleep‘ is another cinematic home run. Sit in the dark, hold your loved one’s hand and hang on for the ride. For you are about to go through the mill. Just pray you come out alive on the other side.
Until next time.
Doctor Sleep is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures and arrives in cinemas from October 31st.
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Carl Roberts is a Senior Staff Writer and Books and Literature Correspondent for Future of the Force. He is passionate about Star Wars, Marvel, DC, Indiana Jones and Horror movies. Follow him on Twitter @CarlRoberts2 where he uses the force frequently!