It’s notoriously well-known that Stephen King hated Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.
It was “too cold” and had “no sense of emotional investment in the family whatsoever”. Oh, and you know, casting Jack Nicholson who was already familiar to audiences as a madman begs King to ask “where is the tragedy if the guy shows up for his job interview and he’s already bonkers?”.
V. true Kingy Boi. V. true.
I like to think he wrote Doctor Sleep as an up yours to Kubrick’s Shining, flipping the world of the Overlook Hotel into one that’s a little more super, a little more heroic, but still all kinds of spooky.
Struggling with alcoholism, Dan Torrance remains traumatized by the sinister events that occurred at the Overlook Hotel when he was a child. His hope for a peaceful existence soon becomes shattered when he meets Abra, a teen who shares his gift of the “shine.” Together, they form an unlikely alliance to battle the True Knot, a cult whose members try to feed off the shine of innocents to become immortal.
The film steps back into the past before it catches up with the future. And in its past is familiar imagery, given new form maybe in respect to its actors, particularly Shelley Duvall.
After bringing us up to date, we meet Dan Torrance, played by Ewan McGregor, running from a gift they never wanted. Engulfed in addiction, their inescapable connection with the shining sends them hurtling toward redemption, found in the hands of our own Cliff Curtis, a hospice and a supernatural chance encounter with Abra, played by newcomer Kyliegh Curran.
Director Mike Flanagan then begins to execute his master-plan of uniting those opposing worlds of King and Kubrick. Taking the wonder of the shining and the horror of the Overlook, he layers that “cold” look of Kubrick with the warmth King was hoping to produce with his characters.
McGregor‘s turn as Danny is fantastic, but is outpaced by the exceptional Rebecca Ferguson. Her performance as Rose The Hat rides this eerie line between sympathetic and psychotic, driven by her love for her family; the True Knot.
The True Knot you say?
Yeah, they’re a group of vampiric-like beings who get a kick out of eating the shine. I suspect you can see how this causes the lives of Dan, Abra and the Knot to collide into one another in magical, spooky ways.
Producing some cruel and squirm-inducing scenes through the Knot’s actions, they play mirror to Dan’s re-connection to this horror-fantasy world; It filled by acid-trip dream sequences hurling across countries, and subtle power fantasies being answered in supermarkets.
With a lengthy run-time that staggers at its end, it’s a fun ride through a story that will read differently between people. Some may see it as resting on the laurels of The Shining, while others may just be excited for the original book and its sequel to be told in cinema.
Doctor Sleep has enough shine to stand on its own, but the beginning is the end is the beginning.
It always comes back to the start, but the journey Doctor Sleep takes is parts sad, creepy, fun, and heroic.
While we may never see a full King-Universe, it's nice to see more and more of his stories on-screen, especially when they have more of it to be told.