By Ryan Keating-Lambert
Doctor Sleep is probably the most perplexing Hollywood remake/reboot/sequel of the year. Although Stephen King’s source material is strong, engaging and even creepy at times, along with Mike Flanagan’s visual flair for the gothic and the grim, it buckles under the heavy half-assed attempts to bring back characters (and certain locations) from The Shining.
Directed by Mike Flanagan (The Haunting of Hill House, Hush) and starring Ewan McGregor as the older Danny ‘Doc’ Torrance, son of Wendy, and Jack who you probably remember wielding an axe in Kubrick’s 1980 horror classic. This sequel is set years after the original events in the iconic Overlook Hotel – Dan is older, and also an alcoholic after decades of battling the many ghosts that his ‘shining’ powers have attracted over the years.
On the other side of the country, Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) and her band of followers are sucking the powers or ‘steam’ out of gifted children with mysterious ‘shining’ capabilities. ‘Eat well, live long,’ she says to her new teenage follower, ‘a pusher’, who is able to force people to do things by sheer will alone. Also, there’s a really weird cameo by Room’s child star Jacob Tremblay here and I’m not sure why
It’s here that we learn that in this Stephen King Shining-verse, there are actually a lot of children with unusual powers, and all of them in danger of being consumed by the hungry ‘True Knot’, but let’s just call them ‘steam suckers’, who look like an ’80s inspired Lost Boys band of hippies and hoodlums led by Rose the Hat… who has a hat.
Ferguson’s villain is an intriguing one and despite what seems to be poor direction and a weak screenplay, also written by Flanagan, she ends up being one of the most interesting characters here, and the only person that has anything that resembles a feeling. Both McGregor and newcomer Kyliegh Curran as the new ‘shining’ kid on the block Abra Stone seem to be completely lost and directionless. There’s also somewhat of an accent crisis here with McGregor who never feels or sounds particularly American.
Unfortunately, these dull performances coupled with sometimes completely pointless dialogue make this film quickly run out of steam… in more ways than one. But most of all, it’s the shoddy attempts at fan service and bringing scenes, sets and character’s from Kubrick’s film back for flashbacks and ghost sequences – for the most part it feels cheap and just plain cringe-worthy.
And what a shame that is because Flanagan has made some incredibly dark and complex horror films, not to mention the uber-creepy and fascinating Haunting of Hill House Netflix series. His style has certainly carried over with the night-time blue palettes and that subtle moonlight that touches everything with a poignant glow.
Some of Rose’s out-of-body experience sequences are extremely well orchestrated and really bring something special, so much so that I hesitated for a moment to give this film only 2 stars… the guy is certainly gifted when it comes to setting the mood. But then it’s all ruined by going back to the tired old ghosts of the Overlook. The only really scary thing in this film is the fact that Hollywood is still hopelessly obsessed with cashing in on the original, which has been DONE TO DEATH, from The Simpsons to Spielberg’s recent Ready Player One, haven’t we shined enough?
That being said, if flogging an original is your kind of thing, still go and see it, especially if you’re a fan of King’s book – just remember it’s two and a half hours of your life that you may not get back. I personally would’ve enjoyed a more standalone sequel by Flanagan where he was more concentrated on script and style, and building a fully realised villain out of Ferguson, who after a long track record of semi-decent action movie roles, really deserves something like this.
It’s also a film about addiction and how hopelessly addicted to time, to nostalgia. And in that way I guess it works? We are addicted to these old films, and the lengths we go to to keep them alive is utterly ridiculous.
Photo: Warner Bros