Ghosts of the past retain their shine

Will Ferris
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Doctor Sleep (15) 152 Minutes

Director Mike Flanagan has recently gained praise for Netflix horrors The Haunting of Hill House and Gerald’s Game – both well received and, in my book, impressive seeds of Flanagan’s growth into an auteur.

But Doctor Sleep is a giant step forward for him in this follow up to Stanley Kubrick’s ‘loose’ adaptation to Stephen King’s 1977 ghost story The Shining (bit confusing, but stick around, you might get it).

Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) remains emotionally scarred by the infamous Overlook Hotel and its demonic inhabitants. It’s only after a long period of sobriety that he is warned of the murderous activities of Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) and the True Knot, a cult that feeds on the telekinetic ‘shine’ of children, who now target Danny’s psychic pen pal, Abra Stone.

Facing up to the ghosts of his past, Danny must protect Abra at the cost of his own recovery.

Whilst Kubrick’s ‘Shining’ is no doubt an adaptation of King’s novel, there’s always been a lot of grey area between the two. King’s novel was a straight up ghost story. Kubrick’s film was a psychoanalytic study.

King hated the film. Kubrick, being Kubrick, didn’t care. Critics have, for the most part, positioned the two as separate entities. Flanagan tries to fit them back together, but in no way infringes or copies Kubrick. Instead he establishes this sequel as a hypothetical continuation with its own motifs, remaining faithful to both the director and writer whilst working cleverly with his own dark, gothic style.

His ghosts are gross and malevolent, showing how Kubrick’s creations have withered and starved over time.

But the film’s existence at all is, at times, an issue. The ambiguity of the original is what made it so spellbinding. Doctor Sleep, however, is in no way ambiguous. It’s a linear story with basic narrative that poses few questions, as if to satisfy King’s ego – though it is remarkable that two film makers almost 40 years apart are able to write better endings that the author himself.

The cast is great. McGregor brilliantly channels Nicholson at times whilst Ferguson’s sexy but scary antagonist is a serpent under the innocent flower. Watching her observe the cult as they feed on souls to reach an orgasmic high is fascinatingly brilliant.

But what is most appealing is the sight of McGregor walking through the hallowed halls of the Overlook, which meticulously replicates Kubrick’s set from 1980. From the moment Danny stepped into that building, the hairs on my arms stood up for the first time in a long year of film.

I’ve always maintained the belief that seeing Jack Nicholson’s face frozen in time whilst Al Bowlly sings ‘Midnight, The Stars And You’ is the best ending ever to a film.

This film only reignited that belief, and boy am I thankful for it.