Doctor Sleep isn't The Shining but that's not a bad thing
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The follow-up to the horror classic is released this week.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All remakes and no originality make film fans a dull crowd.
When it comes to revisiting the classics, horror buffs are well past the point of feeling outraged or protective of the original material, but The Shining is something completely different.
Not only is it a great horror, it's a great film. Period.
Endlessly copied, often parodied (The Simpsons did it best), but rarely bettered, it still frequently takes an axe to the other contenders for the subjective title of greatest horror film ever made.
Fast forward 39 years though and it's time to go back to the Overlook Hotel in Doctor Sleep, but the journey getting there is quite different.
Still irrevocably scarred by the trauma he endured as a child, Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) has done everything he can to stop his 'shine'.
Booze, distance, trauma, and the anonymity that living your life as a constant stranger are all etched on his face and soul. In terms of performance, McGregor really does capture the sense of Danny's haunted past and bleak present.
If The Shining could be simply described as one man's bid to destroy his family, Doctor Sleep could be hailed as one man's attempt at rebuilding his life after years of substance abuse and trauma.
It's an actor's film where character is key. On this note, McGregor is as solid as they get.
What kicks the story into gear is when Danny encounters Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a brave teenager who also possesses the ability to 'shine.'
Instinctively recognising that Danny shares her power, Abra seeks him out, desperate for his help against the merciless Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) and her followers, The True Knot, who feed off the shine of innocents in their quest for immortality.
Basically, imagine an evil cult that go around abducting strangers, killing them, and 'eating' their souls because the life force of others prolongs their own twisted lives.
Ferguson is clearly having a ball throughout the film as she infuses her character with a kooky mixture of charisma, dread and ferociousness.
Much like The Shining, Doctor Sleep doesn't heavily lean into the blood, guts and gore. This should be no surprise when you look at the CV of the film's director, Mike Flanagan - he previously made Hush and The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix.
That sense of creeping dread, long shots of lingering ghouls, and an ominous atmosphere persists throughout. However, that's not to say that the film isn't without its flaws.
Tonally, there are times when it feels a bit disjointed and like a few films merged into one - part of it feels like a road trip as Danny heads cross-country to meet Abra, another part is more like a conventional thriller as Danny uses his 'shine' to discover the whereabouts of a missing child.
It's possible to strictly view Doctor Sleep as a film about a man that's facing his demons - both personal and supernatural.
Classifying it purely as a psychological thriller isn't apt.
Elsewhere, some characters feel flippant and completely unnecessary to the overall plot because ultimately, we all know where the film is heading. There are also periods when the pace slows down and you're hoping for a scare or two to jolt the attention levels back up.
However, despite the fact that the destination is clearly marked, the real giddy thrill of Doctor Sleep is arriving there, as the doors are finally opened and, once the characters get to the Overlook Hotel, it feels almost like Avengers: Endgame for fans of the original.
By that we mean the buzz you get from spotting an Easter egg, acknowledging a line of dialogue, seeing the most famous elevators in cinema history, returning to room 237, the axe.
If anyone has even the smallest emotional connection to Kubrick's film, they'll get a kick out of seeing something as small as *that* pattern on the carpet, or the damaged door.
Speaking of which, it's clear that Flanagan and his production team worked tirelessly to recreate the sets because the detail is fantastic and you get the foreboding sense that every nook, cranny, and corner of the hotel is soaked with menace. The director has spoken at length about how he obsessed and analysed every frame of Kubrick’s film in preparation for Doctor Sleep. It shows.
The film starts slowly and descends into madness, just like its predecessor.
Ultimately, Danny has to call upon his own powers as never before while facing his fears and reawakening the ghosts of the past.
By the time the final act comes around, you'll forgive the bumps and detours along the road. Unlike other remakes/reboots/sequels, it doesn't commit cinematic redrum to what came before it.
Instead, it feels like a bridge between King and Kubrick's visions of the material while distinctly remaining a Mike Flanagan film.
Doctor Sleep is released on 31 October in Irish cinemas.
Clip via Warner Bros. Pictures
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