This visually impressive sequel to Kubrick's classic wears out your patience before piling on the fan service
Within the pantheon of horror classics, The Shining has always been a bit of an anomaly. Unlike other Horror Hall of Famers – Jaws, The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – Stanley Kubrick’s seminal 1980 masterpiece, adapted from the bestseller by Stephen King, somehow managed four decades without Warner Bros. forcing an unnecessary sequel upon us. Perhaps fear played a part. It’s one thing to follow Spielberg, or Friedkin, but Kubrick? Writer-director Mike Flanagan makes a valiant go of it, at least. With an array of effective cinematic chillers and some terrific work on Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House already to his name, he crafts a follow-up that’s always handsome, packed with neat visual touches and creative production design. But with a muddled story that feels too pulpy for the mock-Kubrick aesthetic, and a third act that takes fan service to frightening new levels, it’s a film that never really finds a pulse of its own – or a true reason to exist.
Based on the 2013 novel by Stephen King, Doctor Sleep (doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?) zeroes in on a middle-aged Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor), whose troubled childhood has left him adrift and dependent on alcohol (being chased around a haunted hotel by your mad, ax-wielding dad will do that to you). When a young girl named Abra (Kyliegh Curran), also gifted with the psychic powers Danny refers to as “the shine,” finds herself targeted by a group of wandering vampire-like creatures called “The True Knot,” Danny must figure out a way to stop the cult. These baddies are led by Rebecca Ferguson’s one-note villain, Rose the Hat, who – complete with wandering Irish accent – hunt children with “the shine” in order to stay immortal. It’s a quest that Danny, and the film, meanders in messily for two hours before finally steering us into the dark heart of Kubrick’s original.
But Kubrick’s film (famously disputed by King) never left room for a follow-up. His version embraced a chilly ambiguity that worked better the less you thought about it. Flanagan’s bid to bridge the gap between that film and this one never feels quite right. Especially jarring is his decision to recast the Torrances and Dick Hallorann in flashbacks and – more blasphemously – in the re-staging of classic scenes. The more Doctor Sleep tries to hold hands with The Shining, the less connected it feels to the world it’s trying so hard to emulate. And in Flanagan’s attempts to recreate Kubrick’s clinical shooting and editing style – the use of fades between shots in this film is beyond ridiculous – Doctor Sleep winds up feeling not tightly-controlled and eerie but lethargic and flat.
It’s not all bad: diehard fans are sure to get a kick out of watching McGregor roam the meticulously and impressively recreated hallways of the Overlook, and there’s a nice visual synchronicity in the blocking – or is that re-blocking? – of certain shots that echo the original. But after a while the gimmick fades, and by the time the infamous twins have popped up and blood starts spilling meaninglessly from the elevators, it begins to feel like you’ve spent two hours queuing for a museum. Worse, perhaps, is that Doctor Sleep doesn’t manage a single scary moment, almost as if Flanagan decided there was no point competing with Kubrick. It is lovingly made and there are some nice performances, but sadly this sequel doesn’t shine as much as it occasionally flickers.
By: Tom Barnard
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This post was categorised in Reviews.