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The secret of Doctor Sleep’s success

In 2013 Stephen King released the novel Doctor Sleep, a sequel to his classic 1977 novel, the Shining. In 1980 director Stanley Kubrick made the Shining into a film and Stephen King did not like it, especially some of the liberties that Kubrick took with the plot and characters.

A poster images featuring portraits of Rose the Hat, Danny Torrance and Abra

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King described the film as being “like a big, beautiful Cadillac with no engine inside it”. Fans would argue that the engine was definitely Kubrick’s direction and Jack Nicholson’s fantastic performance in the lead role. Although King thought Nicholson to be too one dimensional. He was most famous at the time for One Flew Over the Cuckoos’ nest and King believed he just played the whole part of Jack Torrance as nuts, rather than someone starting out reasonable and descending into nuts.

All this set a precedent for King. Nowadays he gets approval over the screenwriter, director and principal cast when his novels are adapted to film.

In 1997 a three-part TV mini-series of The Shining—with a screenplay written by Stephen King starring Steven Weber and Rebecca DeMornay—was made. It has been ranked as the worst made-for-TV King adaptation of all time.

Whether Stephen King likes it or not, Kubrick’s adaptation has endured and grown to be regarded as an all time classic film. When they set out to make Doctor Sleep it was definitely in both King’s and Warner Brother’s best interests to tie it back to the Kubrick version and not the piece of shit mini-series.

Who made it?

This presented a challenge for director Mike Flanagan, who also wrote the screenplay. How could he stay true to the novel while carrying on the story from the prequel film, where so many liberties had been taken?

A younger Mike Flanagan discovered the movie The Shining before he discovered the author, and knows first-hand the emotional tug-of-war many fans experience coming to grips with their mutual love of the film and the book.

This is the secret to Doctor Sleep’s success!

Flanagan’s gateway to King was Kubrick and with all the imagery from the original film tattooed is on his subconscious he provides a happy medium that will leave most fans more than satisfied with the outcome. Also, who better than the man who oversaw the production of Netflix’s excellent Haunting of Hill House series to take us back to the Overlook Hotel?

The story

Doctor Sleep joins Danny Torrance some 40 years after the events of the Shining still struggling with the trauma he endured during that fateful winter at the Overlook Hotel. He is at rock bottom, homeless and struggling with drugs, alcohol and his own propensity for violence. Just like his old man Jack, the apple hasn’t fallen too far from the tree. Danny gets clean, regains control of his life and gets a job as an orderly at his local hospital. It’s there he is able to use his unique gift, or shine, to help terminally ill patients shuffle peacefully off this mortal coil and into the great thereafter. That’s how he earns the nickname ‘Doctor Sleep’.

His newfound peace is interrupted when he is sought out by a girl named Abra, who also shines. She wants him to help her against a group of homicidal nomads called the True Knot. The True Knot are some kind of horrific extrasensory vampires who are able to extend their life by feeding off the shine of innocents, the younger the better, kind of like veal. They’re a really unpleasant bunch.

The cast

In the blue corner we have the good guys. Ewan MacGregor plays Danny Torrance with great conviction and does his part to really tie the audience back to the Danny from the prequel. Kyleigh Curran is excellent as Abra. Carl Lumbly does his best Scatman Crothers impersonation as Dick Hallorann. Cliff Curtis convincingly brings Danny back from the brink as his sponsor Billy Freeman. And Alex Essoe puts in a few brief but excellent appearances as Wendy Torrance, she sounds exactly like Shelley Duvall.

In the red corner we’ve got the True Knot. Carel Struycken has such a captivating appearance, while his role as Grandpa Flick is minor, he’s a joy to watch. Zahn McClarnon is ice cold as Crow Daddy. Emily Alyn Lind almost makes the audience empathise with the True Knot as Snakebite Andi. And Rebecca Fergusson is amazing as the leader of the group Rose the Hat, she plays an incredible villain that is both merciless and powerful but also has these subtle vulnerabilities.

While it helps to see the prequel there’s still a lot of enjoyment to be had if audiences haven’t. Flanagan has done an incredible job of making a film set in the same universe as Kubrick’s without trying to imitate his style too much. It’s the subtle things like weaving together soundtracks, the imagery from things like the colour of Wendy Torrance’s dressing gown and more obvious stuff like the sweeping aerial shots and even the Overlook Hotel itself. It’s also a nice touch having new actors play old characters with an authenticity that doesn’t rob them of the identity established by former cast members, you could say that it was kind like seeing a ghost.

Nobody’s perfect!

It’s not without its flaws, the two and a half hour runtime will be a turnoff for the time poor and the intense violence towards children is very confronting (and possibly more than what a lot of audiences are prepared to stomach). In some ways Kubrick’s legacy tends to weigh it down and those unfamiliar may wonder why things are a certain way where diehard fans might be divided about the whole project and wether or not Doctor Sleep was at all necessary to begin with.

The verdict

Comparisons aside, Doctor Sleep is an excellent film with utterly compelling characters, a show-stopping villain played brilliantly by Rebecca Fergusson and an original story that builds on the Shining while still being strong enough to stand on it’s own.

Doctor Sleep is like getting a couple of estranged friends, who had a falling out and have not spoken for years, arrive at the same party. It’s incredibly awkward for a few minutes, then they (pun intended) bury the hatchet and pick up from where they left off.

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