Directed by: Mike Flanagan
Written by: Mike Flanagan
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Carl Lumbly, Zahn McClarnon
Adapting a Stephen King novel to the screen carries its own complications, as the famous author’s prolific style packs in a plethora of plot and ideas for a feature film to capture. Now add the narrative divide between King’s The Shining and the liberties taken by Stanley Kubrick in his 1980 film. Creating a sequel to both works and have it make sense creates an unenviable task, which director Mike Flanagan miraculously constructs.
Now in adulthood, Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) falls into the similar pitfalls of his father by abusing alcohol. He does so to suppress “the shine” powers that have brought much trauma in his life. With the help of a friend, Dan joins Alcoholics Annonymous and begins putting his life back together until he feels the presence of a young girl named Abra (Kyliegh Curran), who also possessed “the shine” but to a stronger degree.
The differences between King’s book and Kubrick’s film can be endlessly debated, especially in my household. My wife loves the work of King and stands by the criticisms he had for the film, as she has experienced both. While not having read the book, I find myself defending the changes Kubrick instilled to tell the story he wanted. We’ve had many discussions and in the end, we always land on one fundamental difference. King’s novel has more warmth and sympathy for the character of Jack, while Kubrick’s film has a more cynical view and provides Jack with no redeemable qualities. For a story so personal for King, not appreciating how Kubrick interpreted the story makes sense. All of this to say that director Mike Flanagan had such a tough task ahead of him. He needed to adapt the book “Doctor Sleep” written by Stephen King, while also serving as a sequel to Kubrick’s film because the majority of the public recognizes the feature film more.
Flanagan accomplishes this by centering the story on the human connection of Dan and Abra, while also implementing imagery utilized in the 1980 film. He used what made each story succeed and brought it together to explore how to deal with trauma. Dan suffered a traumatic event at the Overlook Hotel and after the experience, the internal battles he fights continue and from a young age he must learn how to cope. The mechanism used in the film stems from a simplistic idea but still has plenty of resonance. Dan battles this struggle well into his adulthood, which ultimately leads him to alcoholism and reaching rock bottom before realizing something has to change, which brings in Abra.
The connection between Dan and Abra has been done before where the hero assists an upcoming youth to try to navigate their powers. This iteration works because of the performances by Ewan McGregor and Kyliegh Curran. They each bring a different perspective of working through this ability and how they both remain unsure of its capability. Their connection must work for the desired effect of the story to take hold. McGregor captures that pain and the internal struggle that continues to plague his character, Dan. Curran displays the excitement and youthful appreciation for trying to understand what it all means for her.
An element added to the story revolves around a group of people who find others that have “the shine” and fatally suck it out of them. Think of it as vampires that can only consume a specific type of blood. They are led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) and yes she wears that hat for the majority of the film. What could possibly be seen as a laughable group of people turns into something quite menacing in the story. Rose the Hat possess attributes that would make her approachable but contains a vicious methodology. Ferguson’s performance plays into that idea, as her character manifests a fascination for the sheer amount of power of “the shine” Abra possesses.
The Shining has been described as one of the most frightening films ever made, but Doctor Sleep’s story follows the plot of an adventure tale. Certainly, scary moments appear throughout the film, but it does not serve as the main intention behind the storytelling. It centers on Dan and Abra trying to get away from the threat of Rose the Hat and her crew. Shifting to this story rightfully takes away the expectations to frighten as much as The Shining and be its own narrative. It feels fresh in its storytelling because it utilizes shots from the previous film but only after it fully establishes itself with its message. Each story point makes sense and leads to a pitch-perfect conclusion. One that would appease the ardent defenders of the book and film of The Shining. Flanagan’s film presented itself as a juggling act and he put it all together thematically, visually, and narratively.