How do you follow up Stanley Kubrick? Furthermore, how do you follow up the cultural behemoth that is The Shining, a film ubiquitous in pop culture and one that shapes its history? This is the question that director Mike Flanagan tries to grapple with in Doctor Sleep, the sequel to The Shining, that deals more with the first film’s namesake than Kubrick’s film ever did. This is a film about “the shining”, the magical powers that Danny and head chef Dick Halloran share in the first film. In comparison with the original, it more closely references King’s novels; there are quotes abound from the first book, as well as multiple references to King’s The Dark Tower series; if you know your King, it pays off. It’s said that there are only two ways to go about a sequel: sticking to the successes of the original, or completely turning it on its head. This film takes the latter, winding us a story about the powers involved in the forces of the Overlook Hotel.
Hanging over this film is the shadow of its predecessor, one that the film wisely decides to embrace. The production team built the Overlook Hotel based on Kubrick’s original blueprints, and the layout of it in this film makes as little sense as the last; it’s faithful to the point where they decided to CGI the infamous blood pouring from the elevator scene so that it would pour in exactly the same way. Scenes in Doctor Sleep mirror The Shining, even if they’re in completely different situations. The swell of The Shining’s theme as Danny starts to drive out to the Overlook and the recreation of the first film’s opening is nothing short of thrilling. But what’s strange is Flanagan’s decision to recast some of the most recognisable faces in horror cinema. It’s incredibly jarring: everything else looks the same, and yet we’re meant to believe that this completely different cast are the same people. Flanagan apparently decided against using CGI, and it comes close to ruining the film. A scene where Danny Torrance comes face-to-face with his father as Lloyd the bartender is ruined by the fact that the man looks nothing remotely like Jack Nicholson.
Doctor Sleep’s new story, though, is what keeps it interesting. It’s a tense and thrilling chase. On one hand, we have Rose the Hat’s community, who feast on those with “the shining” and on the other, we have those who shine – Danny and powerful newcomer Abra. While Danny recovers from alcoholism and uses his powers to aid those dying in the hospice he works at, Abra is following the mysterious disappearances of numerous children – killed by Rose’s community. She communicates with Danny on his blackboard wall, and eventually he is drawn into the story, trying to protect her from the harm threatening her. They’re a brilliant team; Danny’s desperation to keep Abra from the malevolence that haunted him is compelling. But it feels like we lose a little of Danny’s story in Abra’s drama, and so we miss emotional resonance with him by the end.
This is a film that is weighed down by the ghosts of its past in the way that Danny is haunted by those of the Overlook. The cultural legacy it grapples with is immense, and the energy spent on addressing that often sacrifices the development of characters and story meaning it can never come close to The Shining. But we knew it never could. In its own right, it is a good film, helmed by great performances in Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, and Kyliegh Curran. But, if you’re familiar with The Shining, Doctor Sleep does not avoid the increasingly inevitable path of disappointing sequel.
Image: quinta-feira via Intergalactic Robot