Tuesday 12 November 2019

Doctor Sleep review: The Shining sequel takes on Kubrick's film but in doing so makes a mistake

3 stars

Ewan McGregor in Doctor Sleep
Ewan McGregor in Doctor Sleep
Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington

It was, said Stephen King, the only adaptation of his work he could “remember hating”, “a film by a man who thinks too much and feels too little”. “All work and no play makes Stanley a dull boy,” echoed the New Yorker’s elegantly acerbic critic Pauline Kael, but posterity has begged to differ, and The Shining is now considered one of the greatest horror films ever made, a garishly lit disquisition on the rottenness of the human soul.

Or something. Searching for meaning in Kubrick’s guignol epic could drive a man mad, mad as Jack Nicholson’s histrionic would-be novelist Jack Torrance, who lost his shit during a long winter as caretaker at the mega-haunted Overlook Hotel and chased his wife and kid around its badly decorated corridors waving a large axe.

At the time of its release, The Shining was criticised for being too slow, insufficiently creepy and dominated to its detriment by Mr. Nicholson’s eyebrow-waggling over-performance, but it’s always scared the Jesus out of me, and has moments of cinematic fluidity that leave one slack-jawed in awe.

Are sequels to great films a good idea? Possibly not, and the reason why no one ever made Citizen Kane 2: Rosebud’s Return is because they knew they were on a hiding to nothing. The makers of Doctor Sleep, though, at least have a good excuse, because their film is based on a sequel to his own novel by Stephen King.

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Published in 2013, Doctor Sleep was essentially an answer to the question ‘whatever happened to Danny’, the little boy with the telekinetic gift who fled the Overlook with his understandably hysterical mother Wendy in the aftermath of Jack Torrance’s murderous breakdown.

Nothing good, as it turns out, and when we first meet the grown up Danny (Ewan McGregor), he’s dossing down with a female drug addict after an epic bender that included a most unedifying bar fight. A lot of people say they have demons, but Danny has actual demons to contend with, including that rotting old woman from Room 237 who keeps showing up in his bathtub looking for trouble. Haunted by his father’s madness, and the dark visions summoned by his telekinetic gifts, Danny has staggered from one bad situation to the next till he finds meaning and possible redemption in a small New Hampshire town.

After a kindly stranger called Billy (Cliff Curtis) encourages him to begin attending AA meetings, Danny gets a job as a night porter at a hospice, where he uses his gifts to comfort the dying. Things are looking up until someone begins communicating with Danny via a blackboard in his lodgings. She is Abra (Kyliegh Curran), an 11-year-old with powerful psychic abilities who’s discovered she can communicate through her thoughts with fellow ‘shiners’, like Danny.

Read more: How do you make a sequel to Kubrick classic The Shining? Rebecca Ferguson has the inside story

Which is all very well, but Abra’s talents have attracted the attention of Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), leader of the True Knot, a motley gang of psychic vampires who stay ever-young by attacking the gifted and breathing in their essences as they die. Top of their hit list are children, because their gifts are undiluted, and in one truly disturbing scene we watch them slowly kill a teenage boy. But psychic essence is getting hard to find, and Rose and co will wither and die if they don’t get plenty soon. Abra, with her extravagant talents, could provide a sumptuous feast, but while they bear down on New Hampshire, Danny hatches a plan that just might save her.

Writer/director Mike Flanagan is a horror specialist whose recent credits include the critically lauded Netflix show Haunting of Hill House, and in making Doctor Sleep had a decision to make: he could either shoot a movie of Stephen King’s novel, or address head on the elephant in the room - Kubrick’s film. He takes it on, and may have felt he couldn’t avoid it, but in doing so makes a mistake.

Read more: Why Kubrick's film adaptation of Stephen King's The Shining still haunts us nearly 40 years on

For at least its first hour, Doctor Sleep is a nicely made, atmospheric and eerie psychological horror, which enters King’s wonky spirit world with sufficient aplomb to make you believe in it. Rebecca Ferguson is wonderfully elegant as Rose, who hypnotises her victims while slowly coiling herself around them like some satanic cobra. Ewan McGregor, though possibly miscast, looks suitably wounded as Danny, and the True Knot’s vampiric pursuit of children makes this a film that gets under your skin.

Until Danny, Abra and Mike Flanagan make the fateful decision to return to the Overlook, that is, to confront Danny’s past and the Kubrick legacy. The mountain hotel is painstakingly recreated, but without giving too much away, an over-literal homage to The Shining turns Doctor Sleep into an unseemly panto. It could have been a lot better; it should have been an hour shorter.

(16, 151 mins)

Read more: Touches of evil genius - how the best horror movies delve deep into our primordial anxieties

Also releasing this week:

Sorry We Missed You

5 stars

Ken Loach and Paul Laverty’s 14th feature finds them taking on the dirty world of zero hours contracts.

Ricky (Kris Hitchen) is delighted when he lands a job as a parcel delivery driver: “you’re your own boss now,” his boss tells him, “you’re not an employee”.

Turns out being your own boss means working like a dog and getting punished if you take time off, an untenable situation that plays havoc with Ricky’s family life, especially as his wife is a carer saddled with similar conditions.

Sorry We Missed You is a forensic indictment of laissez faire capitalism. People used to give out about unions: might be time for a comeback.

(15A, 101 mins)


Brittany Runs a Marathon

4 stars

Paul Downs Colaizzo’s charming low-budget film provides the perfect vehicle for Jillian Bell’s formidable comic talents. She is Brittany, a hard-partying 28-year-old who’s struggling to make her mark in New York.

When she goes to the doctor to try and score a prescription for Adderall, he tells her she’s obese, has high blood pressure and should clean up her act.

With appropriate dread, Brittany takes up jogging, finds new friends and makes a pact to run the New York marathon. Bell’s Brittany is a loveable, believable everywoman, who slowly begins to realise that you can’t laugh your way out of everything.

(15A, 104 mins)

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