Doctor Sleep takes on the big shoes left by The Shining


3 Stars

Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film adaptation of Stephen King's supernatural horror novel The Shining was immediately iconic, its influences strong, its imitators legion.

It sent Jack Nicholson's star into the stratosphere and helped demonstrate horror could be intellectual and draw a wide audience.

Ewan McGregor as Danny Torrance in Doctor Sleep. Picture: Supplied

Ewan McGregor as Danny Torrance in Doctor Sleep. Picture: Supplied

Its creepy characters, dialogue and production design have spent four decades being referenced in pop culture, including in most of TheSimpson's Treehouse of Horror episodes.

Nicholson's "Here's Johnny!" was over-used for decades. Steven Spielberg dedicated a few minutes of his recent paean to pop culture Ready Player One to scenes from Kubrick's film.

What I'm alluding to is that Kubrick left behind some big shoes, and director Mike Flanagan makes his best attempt to do so.

He recently blew small-screen audiences away with his Netflix limited series The Haunting of Hill House, so he was probably an obvious hire for Warner Bros to adapt the sequel novel to The Shining that Stephen King released in 2013.

In The Shining, Jack Nicholson's frustrated writer takes his wife and young son to a job as caretaker for a closed-for-the-winter hotel, a building home to evil spirits particularly attracted to his son and his psychic abilities.

Nicholson's character doesn't make it to the end of that film, but the wife and son do, and Doctor Sleep picks up soon afterwards, with mother and son living in Florida and doing their best to forget the snow and the evil beings.

A few decades later, the son Danny (Ewan McGregor) struggles with crippling drug and alcohol addiction, needed to dull his psychic abilities.

Drifting through a small town, Danny meets kind-hearted Bill (Cliff Curtis) who takes Danny in, encourages him to join in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, and finds him a job at a local hospice. A few years pass and his work for the hospice has helped Danny come to terms with his psychic abilities.

The patients call him Doctor Sleep for his supernatural ability to make patients welcome their final journey.

In this new, psychically open state, Danny hears from Abra (Kyleigh Curran), a gifted young person who has come to the attention Rose the Hat (Rebecca Fergusson), head of a vampire-like group who feed on the psychically gifted.

Danny, Bill and Abra take to the road to try and head off the evil soul-suckers, their journey eventually leading them to the possessed hotel of Danny's childhood.

On other cinema screens at the moment we have the cast of Terminator 2: Judgement Day reunited, and with the latest film's opening scenes picking up immediately after the action of that 1992 film, thanks to some clever CGI.

Doctor Sleep revisits all of The Shining's characters, and Alex Essoe is a plausible facsimile of Shelley Duvall's Wendy Torrance. Later in the film, ET actor Henry Thomas makes an stab at Nicholson's physicality.

It is an interesting role for McGregor who has been a big-screen romantic leading man for so long, it feels strange watching this insipid character who spends most of the film avoiding action.

What is great to watch is Rebecca Fergusson, such a meaty interesting role for her as an ageless figure of evil, so engaging you almost root for the bad guys to win.

Director Mike Flanagan is a multi-hyphenate - he writes, directs and edits here, as he does on most of his productions. He could have been a bit more aggressive on his edit - the film comes in at 152 minutes which start to really drag two-thirds of the way through.

He makes an interesting study on the long-term effects of trauma, which makes this a good pairing with the other recent Stephen King adaptation, the second of the IT films.

Flanagan does a respectful job both following up Kubrik's work, and referencing it. The 40 years between films give the audience distance, though did I really need to learn what happened to Danny Torrance?

This story Filling The Shining's big shoes first appeared on The Canberra Times.