Remember when you were at school and someone would show you the best way to plait hair? Remember how, in theory, You’d take three strands and work them toward the middle to make a perfect binding of three separate elements into a single whole?
Sort of. If you’re anything like me then all you actually managed to make from those three strands was a massive vaguely plaited mess, held together by lose ends and static, that looked suspiciously like a cross between a dead pastry and some kind of crustacean.
Anyway, on with the metaphor.
So, what does this hair based trip down memory lane have to do with Doctor Sleep? Allow me to explain…
Even from the trailer for Doctor Sleep it was obvious that director Mike Flanagan intended to allow the film to follow on from Kubrick’s vision of The Shining, not least because the characters wind up at the Overlook Hotel (if you don’t know why this would be somewhat difficult in a faithful adaptation of King’s work then just trust me. It would).
Which would be fine. Were not for the fact that the book this film is an on screen adaptation of does not follow on from Kubrick’s film but from King’s novel version of The Shining, which although it shares a name and characters with Kubrick’s film (and is a classic in its own right), is a completely different topiary animal. Here in lies the problem and the need for the plait.
Going into this project , Flanagan was faced with the mammoth (and some would say near impossible) task of taking three separate and equally important elements and binding them together. Braiding them into a single coherent whole.
On the one hand the film is an adaptation of a Stephen King’s novel, a sequel to a previous massively successful work in the Shining. On the other hand, the film is also the spiritual successor to Stanley Kubrick’s classic on screen adaptation of The Shining.
This, again, would be fine. Were it not for the fact that these two elements are often starkly different, if not entirely contradictory (despite its critical acclaim and classic status King was famously unhappy with Kubrick’s version of his novel, especially the ending which was changed from the text).
Throw in Flanagan’s desire to illustrate his own vision and style and you have three different and at times conflicting impulses and audiences to be placated. None of which can be ignored.
The only choice for poor old Mike therefore, was to meld these influences together into a film that does justice to all three. To plait them. The question is, does he manage to braid these elements well or does the result look similar to the twisted hair nightmares you produced?
The answer is, a little of both.
As a whole the film is an entertaining and above average horror flick and Flanagan should be commended for juggling the different parts as well as he has.
With some genuinely interesting ideas and characters, as one would expect from the pen of King, Doctor Sleep is the continuing story of Danny Torrence, the little boy from The Shining, who, played by the ever dependable Ewan McGregor, has grown up damaged by the events of his youth and struggles with alcoholism.
Danny or ‘Dan’ as he is now known, eventually settles into a job at a nursing home, earning himself the moniker ‘Doctor Sleep’ on account of his ability to use his ‘shining’ to help the residents transition from life to death more comfortably.
The plot thickens with arrival of Rose the Hat, leader of a group of creatures that feed on the energy from ‘gifted’ children. A beautifully sinister mix between a vampire and the child catcher from Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang, Rose is easily the most memorable character in the movie played fiendish enthusiasm by Rebecca Ferguson.
Torrence is called to prevent this group, known as the True Knot from taking another particularly gifted child and the sometimes meandering plot leads the whole gang back, predictably, to an isolated hotel famous for its leaking lift, tricycle friendly corridors, and authors in residence programme.
There are a number of crowd pleasing nods to Kubrick’s classic, not least McGregor’s appearance at the world’s most famous DIY cat-flap, imortalised by a crazed Jack Nicholson, that will definitely raise a smile with horror enthusiasts.
Furthermore Flangan’s talent for drawing out the more poignant and emotionally affecting moments encourage us to be suitably invested in the characters when the suspense inevitably ramps up.
All of which goes to show that Doctor Sleep is not a bad film.
In some ways, it feels churlish to look down upon it for only being ‘good’ rather than very good or excellent. Unfortunately, you can’t help it. It’s like seeing an A grade student get a C+. It’s still a pass grade, yeah, but its not an A is it?
Whether that A was ever actually achievable is debatable. Perhaps bringing together the three strands into a satisfying whole was an ambition beyond any director and to his credit, Flan the Man does give it a good go.
Unfortunately, just like the Overlook the film feels oddly haunted. Haunted by a desire to please, with the ‘too many cooks’ tug of its forebears being a constant ghostly presence that hampers rather than helps.
In keeping with my tradition of eschewing five star reviews in favour of five word reviews I would say “Good, but not good enough” or “Not good enough, but good” if you prefer.
It is somewhat fitting that Flanagan choses to use a palate of cold greys and blues for a film that struggles to emerge from the shadows cast both by Kubrick’s movie and King’s novel. They were both classics, Doctor Sleep is not- but it is worth your time. Sometimes ‘good’ has to be good enough.