Doctor Sleep (2019)

Director and Screenwriter Mike Flanagan’s film Doctor Sleep, an adaptation of Stephen King’s bestselling 2013 novel of the same name sees a middle-aged Danny (son of Jack) Torrance seeking to start a new life in a new town yet being drawn into battling a troupe of steam-addicted, child-killing near immortals by a young girl rich with magic (which is possibly the same thing as The Shining power that Danny possesses and both may be the same thing as the aforementioned ‘Steam’).  Yes, it’s The Shining Part II and apart from Danny (now Dan) we’re introduced to a whole new cast of characters.

Adapting a novel to screen is challenging at the best times, yet when the source material is a sequel to a much-loved original novel, which in turn was adapted into an undeniable classic of cinema, the challenge rises.  But here’s the real rub, many fans of the original  The Shining  actively loathe Kubrick’s adaptation for being too far removed from its source material, including Mr King himself.

I can empathise with Mike Flanagan.  As a Critic striving for perfection at all times, satisfying disparate groups of avid and let’s face it, ‘rabid’ fans across the world can be a challenge.  Particularly when the art of Criticism is one which is so dependent on its source material – the films which one is charged with reviewing – as Critics don’t have the luxury afforded to novelists of plucking any old idea from the ether and putting it to the page.

The dearth of successful book to screen adaptations, let alone adaptations of King’s own work is evidence enough of the proportional relationship between degrees of removal from the source material and the increase in difficulty.  That is, the job of the Screenwriter who must deconstruct a novel before reconstructing its remaining parts for the visual medium is more difficult than that of the novelist and the job of the Director who must deconstruct the screenplay and then effectively communicate a vision to a cast and crew is harder still.  Readers should then therefore draw their own conclusion as to whether the job of the Critic – or to spell it out, the job of deconstructing a visual work which has itself been deconstructed from an original written work, in order to effectively communicate the key question of how viewers should spend their valuable time– is vastly underappreciated. 

I’m not saying Stephen King couldn’t do what I do (that’s for the reader to decide), I’m merely pointing out the enormity of the task befalling Mike Flanagan as Director and Screenwriter of a work which is an adapted sequel to not one but two, disparate, iconic works.

So how well did Mr Flanagan do?  Perhaps damningly, Mr King himself is on record as being a fan of the adaptation. Though let’s not hold Mr King’s hereto-proven lack of judgement against Mr Flanagan, for even a stopped clock gives the right time twice a day.  In defence of both parties, The Author has also been effusive in his praise of Flanagan’s previous adaptation of His work,  Gerald’s Game,  and I agree with King that Flanagan did as good a job as anyone could have hoped to, considering the source novel is widely regarded as one of King’s worst and had previously been considered ‘unfilmable’.

Despite what Mr King would say, when it comes to film adaptations of his work, less has always proven to be more.  Films such as  IT: Chapter Two  and  The Dark Tower  failed to resonate with filmgoers due largely to the fact that they tried to pack in so much story as to leave little room for the creation of suspense.  This was not true of Kubrick’s  The Shining,  which eschewed exposition for iconic moments and created suspense through lack of action.   

Doctor Sleep  is a more enjoyable ride than either the aforementioned flops.  The acting is strong with the ever-watchable Ewan McGregor believable as an adult Danny and Rebecca Ferguson brings a charm and charisma to the murderous big bad, Rose the Hat.  The plot has some interesting turns but there is just too much going on, leading to a total lack of suspense.  

In the end, in trying to please everyone, the film ends up falling short on too many fronts.  While two thirds of the film seem to slavishly hew to King’s source material, struggling to balance exposition and plot propulsion, the final third feels like fan service for Kubrick’s film.  This has the effect of feeling like two different movies mashed together.  Speaking as a fan of Kubrick’s film, the final third is especially underwhelming as watching a re-creation of iconic scenes by different actors served less as the intended nostalgia trip than a reminder that I was not watching the work of Kubrick.

As sure as Stephen King will not accept that the Review is the highest form of Art – nor reply to my numerous emails on the matter – Mike Flanagan will lose no fans for  Doctor Sleep.  Yet for fans of Kubrick’s  The Shining,  his legacy is more prevalent in Flanagan’s  Oculus (2013).

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