Stephen King loathes Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of his 1977 novel The Shining. So how do you adapt the author’s 2013 follow-up novel, Doctor Sleep, while ensuring your film works as a sequel to a movie that’s part of the cultural consciousness? You can’t, fully – not even by giving it to writer/director Mike Flanagan, who’s previously aced a reimagining of King’s ‘unfilmable’ novel Gerald’s Game and renovated Shirley Jackson’s seminal The Haunting Of Hill House into a truly haunting Netflix series.
Beginning in 1980, directly after a conflation of the shattering events of film and book (The Overlook, though condemned, remains standing, and Dick Hallorann is still with us), we find Danny (Roger Dale Floyd) being visited by the rotting witch in Room 237 while living with mum Wendy (Alex Essoe) in Florida.
Jump forward to present day and Dan (Ewan McGregor) is now a recovering alcoholic in New Hampshire. His ‘shine’ continues to work, and he begins to receive mind-messages from a little girl named Abra (Kyliegh Curran) who needs his help: she’s traumatised by visions of a group of quasi-immortals who hunt down children just like her to feed on their psychic gifts…
Flanagan, as ever, favours character and slow-burn storytelling over cheap shocks, and cleaves closely to King’s spiritual sequel until Kubrick’s Overlook inevitably comes into play. The director's bridging techniques are clever – they’ve even satisfied the author – and the thrill of revisiting the hotel’s labyrinthine corridors, resplendent Gold Room and, shudder, Room 237 is palpable. But there are scenes inside these hallowed walls that just don’t work (to say why is a huge spoiler), and Doctor Sleep the film, like Doctor Sleep the novel, can’t compete with its predecessor. That said, Rebecca Ferguson is a dark delight as Rose the Hat, doing full justice to King’s best antagonist for years.
Want more on Doctor Sleep? Listen to our critic discuss the Shining sequel on the latest episode of Inside Total Film now.