Doctor Sleep (Mike Flanagan, 2019, USA/UK)

               Mike Flanagan had an incredible challenge on his hands with Doctor Sleep. On the one hand, he was beholden to Stephen King fans, who will be aggrieved at minor changes from the source text – arguably one of King’s weaker works. On the other hand, he is beholden to devotees of Kubrick’s 1980 masterpiece – which King famously hated. The Shining fans – myself included – are a devoted cult. Finally, Flanagan also had to appeal to the general horror audience – a group of people who may be drawn to the Stephen King brand but not necessarily have any great affinity for the novel or the original film.
               With all that in mind, Flanagan does a remarkable job. Doctor Sleep is not a perfect film, but in the realm of Stephen King adaptations it is certainly one of the better ones. Its weaknesses are perhaps not Flanagan’s but rather King’s. At two and a half hours, the film feels overlong and plodding. And while there are moments of great tension and imagination, these mostly occur in the film’s finale – Danny’s return to the Overlook Hotel. The film does not rely on visceral scares, and relies more on the emotional core of the story – perhaps the opposite of Kubrick’s King adaptation.
               That being said, Flanagan adopts all the trappings of Kubrick’s film. Down to the sets, characters, and musical cues, Doctor Sleep owes a great debt to the cinematic universe of the 1980 film. This is perhaps where the film most succeeds. I am much happier to get Doctor Sleep than a remake of The Shining – a film that arguably couldn’t and shouldn’t be remade (see the 1997 version for reference). There is a great reverence for the predecessor that I respected and admired. Whether Doctor Sleep will have the same staying power as that film is a question that remains to be answered.



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