Doctor Sleep (Review)

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* * * 1/2

I recently made a momentous decision and shifted The Shining to position number one as my all-time favourite movie (dislocating The Godfather). Kubrick’s horror masterpiece is a perfect movie, a revolutionary movie, an almost inconceivably well-conceived movie, and boasts, possibly, more iconic moments than any other movie. It can still scare me to death (when I watch it alone, late at night, in the dark, which I do every couple of years) and its artistry will forever astound me.

When I heard they were making a ‘sequel’, it naturally sounded like not just a dumb idea but anathema, like making a sequel to Citizen Kane. But Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep is staggeringly respectful, both of Kubrick’s film and Stephen King’s 2013 novel Doctor Sleep, and, for the Shining fan, great fun.

King hated Kubrick’s film, the common wisdom being because Kubrick took a lot of liberties with the story. Flanagan, who wrote Doctor Sleep’s screenplay, manages to make it simultaneously a tonal sequel to Kubrick’s film and the adaptation of King’s sequel to his original book (and if that bends your brain a bit, wait until you see the film). So, we get stylistic nods to Kubrick’s film, careful use of his original score, and even actors re-creating iconic Shining moments (which sounds worse than it is; the modern stand-ins are impeccably cast). But in the story chunks from Doctor Sleep (the novel) that have no direct resonance in Kubrick’s film, involving a troupe of other “shiners” who are more vampire-adjacent than Danny or Hallorann ever were, the feel is much more “Stephen King” than Stanley Kubrick, acknowledging and celebrating King’s motifs and tropes from his books and other films made from them (and if you’re up on both Kubrick and King, you’re in for one hell of a game of ‘spot the reference!’)

Remarkably, this bold-to-the-point-of-foolhardy strategy works. It helps that Rebecca Ferguson is quite awesome as the leader of the rogue shiners; her flamboyant character, Rose The Hat, is one of those King creations that would’ve been wicked on the page but could’ve been ludicrous on screen. In Ferguson’s hands, she’s not. Also helping are the production designers, who’ve done a superlative job of the potentially disastrous task of recreating key Shining sets and costumes. And, of course, that original score really sets the mood. If this hadn’t been a Warner Bros film, and the essential elements hadn’t been available to play with, I cannot imagine any of this being watchable, but, all credit to Flanagan and all involved, it’s highly entertaining, which certainly makes it one of the strange surprises of 2019.

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