Stephen King has seen something of a resurgence of his work as of late. While I wasn’t hugely impressed with It Chapter Two, it still managed to clean up nicely at the box office. Unfortunately, the reverse is true for King’s Doctor Sleep film adaptation – I walked away astounded by what the film accomplished, and yet it has struggled to even recoup its budget. It’ll be a miracle if it even breaks even at the box office at this point.
Which is a shame because Doctor Sleep, which serves as a sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and as an adaptation of Stephen King’s first book of the same name, had a lot of plates to spin to appease both Kubrick and King fans. Remarkably, it walks that tightrope of lofty expectations quite well.
King has long made his disapproval of Kubrick’s version of The Shining known. Yet, while Doctor Sleep gives nods to Kubrick’s vision and incorporates elements of the 1980 film into its own narrative, it also feels much more like a Stephen King story than the its predecessor ever did. Whilst The Shining film outright removed parts of King’s first bestseller and even added lore of its own, Doctor Sleep embraces King’s source material. It’s a King/Kubrick hybrid that somehow works, with King even going so far as to say that Doctor Sleep “redeemed” Kubrick’s version of The Shining for him.
That’s high praise for director Mike Flanagan, who previously worked on the excellent Gerald’s Game and is perhaps best known for his horror series The Haunting of Hill House. But what makes his take on Doctor Sleep so good?
For starters, the cinematography. There’s no two ways about it, this is a beautifully shot film. It has the kind of slick production quality we’ve come to expect from modern films, but still retains a kind of earthy, almost indie-like, charm. Like Kubrick’s films, it’s not by-the-numbers – it has a tangible soul that comes through in its direction.
Then there’s the performances. There are some downright phenomenal performances in Doctor Sleep. The standout for me comes from young actress Kyliegh Curran who portrays Abra Stone, a supernaturally gifted girl. Despite her age, Curran manages to deliver a believable character even amidst the surreal situation she finds herself.
Ewan McGregor also turns in a great take on the adult version of Dan Torrance, the tormented boy from the original Shining story. As usual, McGregor adds an earnest touch to the role.
I’d be remiss not to mention Rebecca Ferguson. Her disarming embodiment of the villainous cult leader Rose the Hat will make your jaw drop. I don’t recall the character making much of an impression on me in the book, but boy does she leave a mark in this film. You will definitely remember her long after the credits roll.
Finally, the screenplay itself is, as King noted, a seamless welding of both his and Kubrick’s visions. Some people might not appreciate just how different both of the two men are in their tone and style, but seasoned film connoisseurs know. Which makes it all the more impressive that Flanagan pulled off making a competent movie that pays equal respects to both sides of the Overlook Hotel. It’s something like a miracle that it succeeds as well as it does.
And unlike this year’s It Chapter Two, Doctor Sleep reins in some of King’s extravagancies while lending a sense of warm humanity to the proceedings that Kubrick was sometimes accused of lacking. Flanagan delivers the perfect balance between the two.
However, viewers should be warned that there is one particular scene in Doctor Sleep that many will find disturbing. Perhaps disturbing enough to ruin any sense of the previously mentioned warm humanity. I won’t spoil it her, but for those who have watched the movie you already know what it is.
Honestly, it took me a few days to gather my thoughts on the film after watching it solely because of that scene. Due to its extremely graphic nature, it made Doctor Sleep a bit difficult to recommend. However, upon reflection, I feel that one scene is really a driving force behind the movie. It gives weight and urgency to the story that I’m not sure would’ve been felt as strongly without its inclusion. Still, it is difficult to stomach.
That said, Doctor Sleep deserves your attention. For Stephen King fans, it is required viewing. For Stanley Kubrick fans, likewise, it is a must-see. And for everyone else, well, let’s just say if you like well-produced films with excellent performances, you will like Doctor Sleep.