Directed by Mike Flanagan. Starring Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran. Horror, USA, cert 15. Released in the U.K. October 31st by Warner Bros.


This months Stephen King adaptation is the one that has been surely met with the most trepidation for some time. Although The Shining may not be King’s favourite adaptation it certainly ranks higher on an awful lot of peoples all time greatest horror lists and whatnot. Stanley Kubrick’s take on the misadventures of the Torrance family in the Overlook Hotel still stands tall as a giant in the genre. Whether it’s Kubrick’s direction which has gone on to spawn many myriad conspiracy theories as to what the film is actually about, the gliding steadicam or Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall’s howling and terrified performances, it would take a brave or foolhardy director to tackle and put their own spin on such an iconic part of cinema history.


Step forward then Mike Flanagan, the talented writer and director who has quietly built up an impressive filmography of his own including his previous King adaptation of Gerald’s Game which managed to turn the tale of a woman tied to a bed into something gripping, grisly and exciting. Flanagan is a director who is interested in trauma, particularly trauma inflicted within family units; whether it is the sibling pair at the centre of OCULUS dealing with the mental illness inflicted on their mother via a haunted mirror or the many supernatural issues that plagued the Crain family in his sprawling take on THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE for Netflix. DOCTOR SLEEP examines the after effects that Danny Torrance still suffers from when his father Jack picked up an axe back at the Overlook over thirty years before. Now played by Ewan McGregor, Danny is an alcoholic stumbling through life, blocking out his own psychic talents.


Finding solace, and sobriety, in working at an old folks home where he helps the elderly settle into their final moments Danny soon finds his talents being called into use to take on a bunch of psychic serial killers who call themselves The True Knot. Led by Rose The Hat, a quietly intimidating Rebecca Ferguson, they prowl the highways in their convoy of camper vans seeking out other psychics to feed off of their powers and prolong their own lives.


This is a very different type of story then from Kubrick’s film. Where he stripped out the monstrous hedge animals and other supernatural elements of the novel to concentrate on Jack Torrance’s descent into madness in a subtler fashion, Flanagan embraces it with wide open arms and to his credit it works exceedingly well. He films with a similar chilly palette to that of Kubrick and borrows some visual motifs such as overhead shots of cars or characters staring straight into the camera but when he lets his own directorial flourishes loose like  Rose The Hat’s night time flight through the clouds searching for young psychic Abra, Kyliegh Curran, or Abra’s own form of psychic wandering the viewer is rewarded with some of the most visually spectacular sights seen in a horror film this year. And while the film may actually be lacking in scares it still manages to provoke an uncomfortable reaction with a disturbing scene in which The True Knot eviscerate then psychically cannibalise a young victim.


Where DOCTOR SLEEP stumbles however is in its return to The Overlook Hotel. At first it is a welcome reminder when we see those elevator doors and the lit up bar at the end of the ballroom but the choice of putting returning characters and other familiar sights front and centre reduces it to the cinematic equivalent of a cover version and makes you just want to watch the original as soon as you leave the cinema. The conclusion is hurried along, especially after the well measured two and a bit hours that have come before, and is more interested in showing how well the splintered doors and carpet patterns match up to the original.


However there is still much to recommend here. McGregor’s quiet performance of having to face up to his responsibilities and look after Abra is one of his most impressive yet in his storied career and fans of Flanagan’s past works will be rewarded with appearances from some familiar faces. It easily beats the recent and disappointing IT CHAPTER TWO on nearly every level and pays respects not only to Kubrick but to King as well. Flanagan’s appreciation for the novel, as well as its predecessor, shines, sorry, through for all to see. When telling its own story DOCTOR SLEEP nearly comes into contact with the all time great King adaptations. Hopefully he will be given the chance to collaborate with the author again and concentrate on his own particular vision.


Iain MacLeod.


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