I side with many people when saying that Kubrick's film is a masterpiece. It is a horror unlike any other and it created one of the most haunting and overwhelming cinemascapes of all time. And yet King's destain for Kubrick's creative licence is understandable. The heart of his story was ripped out and oblivious moviegoers were none the wiser. King would later create a faithful adaptation with his well-received miniseries directed by Mick Garris.
The one Kubrick revision of the story that most affects the film adaptation of DOCTOR SLEEP is the finale. Kings version of The Shining ended with the majestic overlook hotel being destroyed in a big explosion, whereas Kubrick's hotel remained standing as Jack perished in the snow outside. Naturally King's sequel was without a hotel and the vacant land on which it stood plays a key role in the Doctor Sleep novel. Yet Mike Flanagan's new adaptation aligns itself with Kubrick's universe, and by placing the entire final act inside the Overlook and disregarding King's original intensions (shafted again) he offers a fan service to lovers of the original film and a kick in the guts to those who love the book. In simple terms; Stephen King's attempt to reclaim his story was pissed upon with more Kubrickism.
Ewan McGregor plays an adult Danny Torrence (the 5 year old trike-rider from the original story) whose experience at the Overlook hotel has lead to a life of alcoholism and depression. When he moves to a small town for a new start, he finds himself telepathically tuned-in with a young girl, Abra (Kyleigh Curran), who has also connected and seen visions of a murderous cult who feed upon the shine that emits from those with the shining. With the cult feeling their presence the merciless leader, Rose The Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), seizes the opportunity to feed upon Danny and Abra, whose shining is stronger than she has ever encountered. With the cult on their trail, Danny and Abra must use their abilities to hoodwink the band of killers and find a way to destroy them.
Fans of King's original themes will be thrilled to know that Flanagan has reinstated the concepts of alcoholism, however they will be disappointed to know that Danny's trauma is the product of ghouls and ghosts rather than abuse at the hands of his alcoholic father... one step forward and two steps back, right?
Nevertheless Flanagan's world of DOCTOR SLEEP is a tasty treat and the fan-service component of his film is wonderfully realised. He has recreated Kubrick's atmosphere with incredible attention to detail and even recasts the original characters to good effect. Yet as I was immersed in this clever reenactment, I was constantly reminding myself that the story isn't supposed to be this way. There is a clear clunkiness that comes from binding an original vision with an amended one, and the entire final act feels unhinged.
The first and second acts are much stronger with all emphasis placed on new concepts and a drastic tonal shift from the original story. The world that Danny occupies is urban and unfamiliar to the mountainous terrains of Colorado. The nomadic villains of the story are classic King characters, yet are impossible to imagine in Kubrick's universe. Baring a striking similarity to the tribe from Katherine Bigelow's Near Dark, these hungry creatures come from King's pages with a familiarity and comfort to fans who understand the depths of his united worlds. These are wonderful characters with Ferguson's sorceress-like leadership being a delicious addition to the story, yet with DOCTOR SLEEP's alignment with Kubrick, their place feels disingenuous and hokey (they deserve better).
The performances are all good, particularly Curran who makes her debut as Abra, as well as a chilling appearance from Jacob Tremblay (Room, Good Boys). McGregor makes for a believable Danny Torrance and taps into the inner-torment effectively. It is a shame, however, that he's never given the opportunity to tap into the drama to full effect, which highlights the other conundrum of the Kubrick/King compromise. Kubrick's film meandered and took its time, with the horror seeping onto the screen gradually. The drama was palpable and facilitated the horror, whereas DOCTOR SLEEP panders to the short attention spans of modern audiences and fears losing the viewer. At any given point where dramatic depth threatens to prevail, the focus is yanked towards the horror without any finessed context.
DOCTOR SLEEP is the film that was doomed from the get go. Had it built upon King's novel it would have confused a greater audience who know only Kubrick's vision. And that makes sense. It is an affectionate trip down memory lane and sacrifices substance for nostalgia. Whereas had it adhered to the books, it would have been a layered and compelling dramatic horror film which – in turn – wouldn't have connected with the greater audience. A classic Catch-22 situation.
See DOCTOR SLEEP for the performances and lap up the fan-service... you may as well, otherwise there isn't much point seeing the film at all.