Stephen King legendarily hated the classic 1980 film Stanley Kubrick made of The Shining — a fact that made it hard for writer-director Mike Flanagan to get King’s seal of approval to film Doctor Sleep, the bestselling 2013 sequel to his haunted-hotel magnum opus. Besides, readers of the novel may remember the author burned down the Overlook Hotel, the scary place that compelled caretaker Jack Torrance to try to kill his wife and young son. Flannagan, emboldened by his success with The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix, wanted to bring back the Overlook just as the late, great Kubrick indelibly imagined it, with the ghostly resort being an essential ingredient in his screen adaptation. King resisted, then finally relented — and that’s a good thing. Because the dazzlingly detailed recreation of The Shining‘s big, bad getaway steals every scene it’s in.
How’s the rest of the movie? Well, King is pleased. “I liked it a lot,” he announced. Others find it a mixed bag. For starters, Flanagan is no Kubrick. And yet his take has its fair share of chills, albeit one undercut by lazy character development and a punishing running time of 151 minutes. Remember Danny Torrance, the kid who once biked through the halls of the Overlook, banging into those eerie, Arbus-eyed twins in their party dresses and the naked old bat rotting in her bathtub in Room 237? Well, he not a kid any more. As played with wavering, sad-eyed resilience by the excellent Ewan McGregor, Danny is now a fortysomething washout trying to drown away his haunted-hotel PTSD in booze, sex, barroom brawls and a series of jobs he can’t keep. There’s a lot of foot-dragging across several states before Danny, now Dan, ends up in New Hampshire. That’s where AA meetings led by Dr. John (Bruce Greenwood) steer him to a sympathetic sponsor (Cliff Curtis) and a job at a hospice where he can ease patients gently into that good night. (Doctor Sleep, get it?)
Dan still has his shine, which lets him communicate telepathically with Abra Stone, played by gifted newcomer Kyliegh Curran. She possesses psychic powers that far outshine Dan’s; she’s also the one who leads him to the True Knot, a vampire-like cult led by Rose the Hat (Mission: Impossible — Fallout‘s Rebecca Ferguson). Rose and her followers think they can live forever by killing children with the ability to shine, breathing in the lifeforce that escapes their bodies in the form of “steam.” One scene, in which the cultists despoil a frightened young boy for his essence, is nightmare inducing. A similar theme of child exploitation echoes through King’s latest bestseller — and one of his best book in years — The Institute.
It’s only when the cult sets its eye on Abra that Dan rouses himself to action and possible redemption. His idea is to attract these cultists to the snowy Colorado Rockies, where the ghosts of the Overlook might give True Knot a taste of its own lethal medicine. “I need to wake it up” Dan says, in regards to the familiar looking estate — and what a terrifying, twisted treat it is to creep once again through those pulsating halls of hell. (The movie painstakingly recreated on a soundstage in Atlanta, Georgia right down to the puke-ugly green and purple carpet with the added dust and rot of time. )
What’s more, Flanagan appropriates actual scenes from The Shining, complete with Jack Nicholson lookalike and elevators spewing blood. Thankfully, he also a few of his own tricks in store to hold your rapt attention. Doctor Sleep relies way too much on borrowed inspiration and eventually runs out of — pardon the word — steam. But this flawed hybrid and King and Kubrick still has the stuff to keep you up nights.