Director: Mike Flanagan
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis
When I first heard that Mike Flanagan was going to be making Doctor Sleep, the sequel to Stephen King’s book The Shining and Stanley Kubrick’s film of the same name, I couldn’t wait to see it.
I firmly believe that Flanagan is one of the very best directors working in Hollywood today. Just watch his Netflix series, The Haunting of Hill House, Hush, Oculus, and his incredible sequel to Ouja, Ouija: Origin of Evil for proof of that fact. He also did an incredible job with Gerald’s Game which is on Netflix and is also based on a Stephen King novel.
I honestly believe that he hasn’t put a foot wrong, and that’s why I was so excited for Doctor Sleep. I felt like he’d be the perfect person to bring this epic novel to the big screen, but I also knew it wouldn’t be easy.
Stephen King’s follow-up to The Shining is big, complicated, actually quite action-packed, and I couldn’t help but think that the only way to do the novel justice was to turn it into a six-part mini-series. It’s full of well-developed characters, such as Dan Torrence (played by Ewan McGregor in the movie) and Rosie the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), and I just had the feeling that a movie, even a two hour and a half long one, wouldn’t be enough to fit in everything it needed to.
Doctor Sleep really wasn’t what I expected
Well, after having seen Doctor Sleep, I can report that I was right. There’s just too much for one movie to fit in, but I also think the movie’s problems are deeper than that. I couldn’t help but feeling that Flanagan didn’t know what he wanted the film to be. Was it a sequel to Kubrick’s The Shining or was it a follow-up to Stephen King’s book.
In the end, it’s a mishmash of both, and it feels a bit disjointed because of it. There are fundamental problems when adapting a book like this to the big screen. Not just because it’s a mammoth book (which tends to be the case with most of King’s work), but it’s more the fact that the original film and book are so different.
Stephen King famously hated what Kubrick did to his novel. There are plot changes and pretty big ones at that. Kubrick changed things such as having Dick Hallorann be killed with an aze to the head. That doesn’t happen in the book. Then, then biggest change of all was not having the Overlook hotel blow up at the end.
So, Flanagan had a lot of headaches from the very beginning, and he didn’t quite manage to solve all the problems because I think he himself was conflicted with what to do.
Ewan McGregor and Rebecca Ferguson are great
I haven’t felt power like that in so long.
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That said, it’s not all problematic. One of the best things about this movie is the cast. Ewan McGregor and Rebecca Ferguson are brilliant. I thought that Ewan was especially well cast in the film. I really got the sense that he was a man struggling to keep his demons at bay, both metaphorical and physical ones.
I also can’t think of anyone better than Ferguson to play the villain Rosie the Hat. However, there’s a huge problem with her in the movie. She’s just not scary. Not at all. In the book she’s genuinely threatening, yet, she isn’t really at all in the movie. That’s not down to Rebecca. That’s down to poor writing, pure and simple.
She never really gets a moment to show why we should be so afraid of her because every time she comes up against Kyliegh Curran’s Abra Stone, there was no sense of impending doom because Abra is just too at ease with her powers.
Doctor Sleep is kind of a ‘greatest hits’ of The Shining
Come and play with us, forever, and ever.
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It’s kind of like the Superman effect, just Abra doesn’t really have any kryptonite here to weaken her. It’s actually really problematic because this film really does feel like it lacks a genuinely frightening antagonist. Again, this is a writing problem and not an acting problem.
As for Curran’s performance, it’s fine, yet I did at times think she was a bit wooden in parts. Once again, I tally this down to poor writing and perhaps even poor direction. She very rarely shows any emotion, and I did find myself wondering whether she was the real monster in the movie, which was perhaps deliberate on Flanagan’s behalf.
Then there’s the film’s denouement. I won’t go into any spoilers here, because that wouldn’t be fair. All I’ll say is that it turns into a sort of ‘Greatest Hits’ collage from The Shining. It’s no secret that there are recreations of iconic scenes from The Shining in this movie since they were shown in the film’s trailer, and I couldn’t for the life understand why there were so many of them.
It really doesn’t need it. If I feel like watching scenes from The Shining, I’ll just go and watch The Shining. I don’t need to see them recreated in Doctor Sleep. It’s not in the book, why is it in the film, and the only answer I could think of was because Flanagan wanted to please the Kubrick estate as well as pleasing King by incorporating most of the core elements from the book.
Doctor Sleep almost put me to sleep
When I was a kid, there was a place, a dark place. They closed it down, and let it rot. But the things that live there, they come back.
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It’s such a shame because there was so much going for Doctor Sleep. It has a great cast, a great director, and a great story. But they got too focused on trying to please Stephen King, the fans of the book, the fans of the first film and the Kubrick estate all at once. The end result is a film which feels plodding, ill-paced, even boring in parts, and this is the worst bit, it’s not scary.
I’m not even sure whether you can call this a horror movie because there are no chilling moments. There’s nothing in this film that gave me that sense of impending doom or made me shiver with fright. It’s just not there. All of Flanagan’s previous work made me feel those things, and it’s just not present in Doctor Sleep.
Perhaps I’m being overly harsh on the film? Perhaps my expectations going in were too high? But, when the credits rolled, I couldn’t help but think, “Thank God that’s over”, and I haven’t felt that way about a film in a long long time.
Doctor Sleep hits UK cinemas on October 31st.
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