Tuesday 5 November 2019

Film Review: Doctor Sleep

A sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s seminal horror The Shining, Doctor Sleep sees director Mike Flanagan prove himself a studious and competent caretaker of The Overlook Hotel.

As strange as it may seem, Kubrick’s revered adaptation of The Shining was not widely acclaimed when it first opened in 1980, with the novel’s author Stephen King famously aggrieved by the director’s chops and changes. In the intervening years, Kubrick’s film has earned its rightful place in the pantheon of classic horror, and King has moved on (sort of).

However, this divergence leaves Mike Flanagan – who was set the task of directing and adapting King’s sequel novel – with a conundrum. Does he honour Kubrick’s alterations or reconcile King’s original vision? Well, the answer is yes to both, with Doctor Sleep – which stars Ewan McGregor as an all grown-up Danny Torrance returning to The Overlook Hotel to face his childhood demons – acting as a strange hybrid of the two storytellers.

An exercise in compromise, Doctor Sleep marries the inescapable foreboding and chilliness of Kubrick with the idiosyncratic and supernatural spookiness of King. It’s an impressive undertaking that pays homage to the original while embracing a new direction, as we jump into the present day and join with a dishevelled Torrance as he combats internal anxieties and uses alcohol abuse to subdue his ‘shining’ gift.

Meanwhile, a mysterious cult called The True Knot are hunting and feeding on other gifted people like Torrance, breathing the ‘steam’ their victims ooze during torture or after death. Led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), the cult learn about Torrance and his powerful connection with a young girl called Abra (Kyliegh Curran), who they believe possesses enough ‘shining’ power to prolong their life almost indefinitely.

Clocking in at around two-and-a-half hours, Doctor Sleep is by no means a cheap and nasty cash-grab riding on Kubrick’s coat tails. Hiring Flanagan (whose credits include Oculus, Hush, The Haunting of Hill House and another King adaption Gerald’s Game) is evidence of this also – he’s up there with Jordan Peele and James Wan as the best contemporary horror director of recent past.

For the most part, Flanagan’s marriage of two divergent creative voices – plus his own spin – is a happy one. Make no mistake, Doctor Sleep is 100 per cent a sequel to Kubrick’s film – complete with some shot-for-shot recreations of key moments, like the camera tracking as young Danny rolls across that infamous geometric carpet to the rotting woman who lies in wait in room 237.

The ominous ‘dies irae’ brass returns, as do the iconic REDRUM message – this time, etched into the plaster of a bedroom wall in a moment of frightening foreshadowing.

Where Doctor Sleep struggles is not in its slavish attention-to-detail, but its gluttonous length and hokey antagonists. While the thrilling third act is worth the wait, some of the diversions en route distract from McGregor’s great central performance and a sense of narrative urgency. Ferguson’s folksy villain – who can only be described as a mix of gypsy chic and the long lost sister from Mumford and Sons – fails to send shivers down the spine.

The Verdict: 8/10

An admirable follow-up to an all-time classic, Doctor Sleep is a little long in the tooth, but not lacking in bite. A weird plot ambles its way through some chilling sequences to arrive at the iconic Overlook, which is where this film hits its stride.

Doctor Sleep is in cinemas across Australia from this Thursday 7 November. 

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