Anyone who's read or seen The Shining has the Overlook Hotel's bloody corridors and ghoulish residents seared into their synapses. Stephen King's 1977 novel and Stanley Kubrick's 1980 movie made it one of the most iconic locations in horror, and Doctor Sleep, a visual stunner with a magnificent villain, wants to us drag us back.
King notoriously disliked Kubrick's movie adaptation, since it jettisoned elements of the novel and shifted the focus from Danny Torrance -- a 5-year-old with psychic "shine" powers that allowed him to communicate with spirits -- to his father Jack, as the sinister power of the Overlook drives him mad.
So, director Mike Flanagan (the guy behind Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House) faced a major challenge -- striking a balance between the visions of two greats, King and Kubrick, in his adaptation of King's 2013 sequel novel Doctor Sleep.
He does this by putting the focus firmly on the adult Danny (Ewan McGregor), who deals with the trauma of his childhood at the Overlook first with alcohol, then by using his powers to help dying hospice patients in their final moments -- giving him a degree of peace. He also forms a bond with Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), a teenager with powers like his.
Danny's relationship with alcohol is a major plot point early in the movie, and his experience is cleverly reflected in the harsh brightness of the lighting in outdoor scenes -- like he's seeing dawn after an all-nighter.
McGregor infuses Danny with a nuanced vulnerability and warmth as he talks to patients, and later as he mentors Abra. Curran alternates smoothly between bright-eyed teen and powerful psychic, with McGregor playing off both aspects of her performance nicely.
The pair soon find themselves faced with a group of semi-immortal cultists, called the True Knot, who prolong their lives by hunting and brutally killing children with shine abilities. That's exactly as sinister as it sounds, leading to the movie's most disturbing scene. It's a visceral moment worthy of King and Kubrick.
The threatening group is led by the Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), who turns out to be an utterly chilling villain despite her silly name. Ferguson oozes charm, menace and power whenever she's on the screen. She even manages a decent Irish accent, lending the character a sense of weight and history.
Sadly, most of her sinister allies aren't as well developed -- only new recruit Snakebite Andi (Emily Alyn Lind) feel fleshed out.
At 153 minutes, the movie occasionally feels meandering as it builds suspense and we wait for Danny and Abra to encounter the True Knot. Once they do, however, the mixture of conventional action and psychic battles results in some trippy, visually arresting sequences.
If this doesn't sound much like The Shining, it's because Doctor Sleep is a very different cinematic experience. Flanagan sticks closely to King's sequel novel, but smoothly bookends his movie with lovingly re-created elements from Kubrick's movie. The opening takes place in 1980, immediately after those events, while the movie's final act goes back to a familiar location (no prizes for guessing where).
It's utterly gripping stuff and feels quite different to the rest of the movie, but Flanagan manages to marry the two experiences pretty smoothly. You may not want to play with it forever and ever and ever, but Doctor Sleep is well worth a few hours of your time.