Step right up, folks, and get yer tickets to “The Shining” experience!
Author Stephen King can write whatever he wants, including a sequel to his breakthrough novel “The Shining.” Seeing that sequel, “Doctor Sleep,” transported to the big screen comes with some serious baggage.
Stanley Kubrick Samsonite, to be exact.
On its own, director Mike Flanagan’s “Doctor Sleep” is two-parts effective B-movie and one-third melodramatic mush. When it embraces its Kubrick influences, though, it teeters toward cinematic sacrilege. Some things shall not be touched, especially if the artistry in question is a fraction of a third of a half as good.
Ewan McGregor stars as Danny Torrance, the character featured in both King’s literary original and Kubrick’s landmark 1980 film. He’s all grown up and still has “the shining,” the mystical powers hinted at in the first story. He’s also an alcoholic mess harboring more malignant memories than any adult should carry.
And, it turns out, he’s not the only person who can “shine.”
Meet Abra (an impressive Kyliegh Curran), a teen with similar gifts. She’s been targeted by a ghoulish group who feeds on folks like Danny and Abra.
Rebecca Ferguson leads this twisted troupe, dubbed The True Knot (let’s assume that sounds creepier on paper). Danny and Abra must use their combined powers to stop the group’s reign, even if it means a trip back to a certain hotel.
Sorry, if you’ve seen the trailer you know that’s coming sooner or later. And that’s where “Doctor Sleep” shifts from serviceable thriller to fan service on A-rod-sized steroids.
According to Stephen King, #DoctorSleep ‘redeems’ Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ — ‘I read the script to this one very, very carefully … Everything that I ever disliked about the Kubrick version of ‘The Shining’ is redeemed for me here’
— Fandom (@getFANDOM) November 6, 2019
Up until then there’s plenty to process with Flanagan’s latest horror effort. He knows the genre better than most auteurs, witness his previous King adaptation (“Gerald’s Game”) and his sterling Netflix original, “Hush.”
Here, he’s aided by a score so majestic it’s almost worthy of that “Shining” legacy. The rest of the film? That’s another matter.
Ferguson’s character, Rose the Hat, gets a very creepy introduction. From there, she’s more carnival attraction than villain. Her band of not-so-merry soldiers proves more interesting when viewed collectively. Still, their menace lacks context and therefore we’re never really frightened of them.
WARNING: Those uncomfortable seeing children in jeopardy may want to skip “Doctor Sleep.” Young Jacob Tremblay’s brief but potent appearance is not for the faint of heart.
The film’s belabored finale brings the tale full circle. The production design recreates key visuals from Kubrick’s film, almost certainly aided by CGI magic. It all feels creepy, but not in the way a great horror movie evokes. More importantly, the chills are wholly unearned. There’s nothing in “Doctor Sleep” that burrows under your skin, let alone leaves an impression.
That’s precisely what “The Shining” did for a generation of movie goers. Lamely tapping into that nostalgia vein is a disingenuous short cut, the kind Flanagan should have been shrewd enough to avoid.
Instead, he goes all in.
At its worst, “Doctor Sleep” plays out like a tourist trap, ushering us into a painstaking recreation of the original film.
Look, it’s the bizarre old lady in the bathtub! Now, where are those precocious twins? They gotta be here somewhere, honey!
Sequels needn’t follow the precise blueprints of their predecessors. The 1986 film “Aliens” offers different rewards than 1979’s “Alien.” Each exhibits masterful technique and chills, uniting them despite the disparate approaches.
There’s nothing connecting “Doctor Sleep” and “The Shining” except our culture’s craving for the familiar. The film even ends with a hint that more mystical adventures await.
“Doctor Sleep” is fitfully engaging, but we’ll pass on that possibility. A very hard one.
HIT or Miss: “Doctor Sleep” veers from serviceable entertainment to darn near sacrilege as it pays aggressive homage to 1980’s “The Shining.”