Wednesday 13 November 2019

Shining sequel takes the gloss off original

Doctor Sleep (16, 152mins)

Ewan McGregor is possibly miscast as an older Danny
Ewan McGregor is possibly miscast as an older Danny
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 movie could drive a man mad, mad as Jack Nicholson's histrionic would-be novelist Jack Torrance, who lost his mind 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.

The Shining was initially criticised for being too slow, insufficiently creepy and dominated to its detriment by Nicholson's eyebrow-waggling over-performance, but it's always scared the Jesus out of me, and has moments of outstanding cinematic fluidity.

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. 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 hysterical mother Wendy in the aftermath of Jack's murderous breakdown.

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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. 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.

Rebecca Ferguson is wonderful as a vampiric demon
Rebecca Ferguson is wonderful as a vampiric demon

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.

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 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 The Haunting Of Hill House, and, with 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.

For at least its first hour, Doctor Sleep is a nicely made, atmospheric and eerie psychological horror. Ferguson is wonderfully elegant as Rose, who hypnotises her victims while slowly coiling herself around them like some satanic cobra. 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.

That is until Danny, Abra and Mike Flanagan make the fateful decision to return to the Overlook 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.

Irish Independent

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