Stephen King famously disliked Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of his 1980 novel, The Shining – so much so that, in the 90s, he scripted a television series with the same name, one which he felt stuck closer to his original concept. (I haven’t seen it but the general opinion seems to be that it was lacklustre.) So it’s odd to see him executive producing this adaptation of the sequel, Doctor Sleep, considering it has a whole section devoted to Kubrick’s vision, complete with convincing lookalikes of Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duval. Go figure.
It’s many years after the events of The Shining and little Danny Torrence has, improbably, grown up to be the dead spit of Ewan McGregor. Now called Dan Torrence (see what he did there?), he’s understandably a troubled soul, addicted to alcohol and cocaine and still haunted by visions of his time at The Overlook Hotel – indeed, he has regular conversations with the late Dick Halloran (Carl Lumbly standing in for Scatman Crothers). Driven to desperate measures, Dan decides he has to change, so he takes off to a new town where nobody knows him, and where he has a chance of starting over. As the months pass, he cleans up his act and eventually takes a job as a hospital orderly, where he soon develops a reputation for easing the passing of dying patients and where he acquires the nickname of Doctor Sleep.
But trouble is coming in the shape of Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) and her band of travelling vapour junkies, addicted to murdering anyone with telepathic abilities and inhaling their unique aura in order to keep themselves alive, long past the time when they should be shuffling off to oblivion. When they fix their hungry sights on a talented teenager called Abra (Kyliegh Curran), she reaches out to Dan, who has been a kind of psychic pen-pal of hers for years, asking for his help. He reluctantly answers her call but the desperate struggle to elude these murderous wanderers inevitably leads back to a very familiar location…
Writer/director Mike Flanagan has done something more than the usual cheapie horror adaptation here. He takes his own sweet time to unload the various strands of the story, cross-cutting effortlessly from Dan to Abra to Rose and giving a very real sense of the events unfolding over the years. There are a few eerie moments along the way, but the supposedly scary scenes never connect as solidly as they might. The overall feel is one of unease rather than out-and out terror. Both McGregor and Ferguson submit nuanced performances and Curran has an appealing presence.
The main problem, however, lies in the film’s final act when Dan, Abra and Rose go hotfoot to Colorado for what feels suspiciously like The Overlook’s Greatest Hits. Flanagan’s team have done an uncanny job of recreating the look of Kubrick’s horror masterpiece, but the internal logic feels decidedly off: there’s never any real justification for them going there in the first place and I find myself asking too many awkward questions of the how, when and where variety as events gallop headlong towards a climactic cosmic punch-up.
It would have been braver, I think, to give us an Overlook that doesn’t already feel way too familiar. As it stands, this decision delivers a fatal wound to the proceedings, making the adventure’s final stretches a bit of an ordeal – and with a hefty running time of two hours and thirty-two minutes, sleep feels, at times, too close for comfort.