Doctor Sleep, Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of the novel by Stephen King, catches up with Danny Torrance, who as a child was terrorized by demons and his own father at a spooky Rocky Mountain hotel.
That was in The Shining, published by King in 1977 and filmed by Stanley Kubrick in a movie released in 1980. The new film, depending on how you look at it, is a sequel, an update, a corrective or a disaster. King was never a fan of Kubrick’s cold, meticulous gothic, which has nonetheless gathered a sturdy cult following. Flanagan, while hewing more closely to the novelist’s ideas about evil, innocence and addiction, pays tribute to some of Kubrick’s visual signatures, especially in flashbacks that take grown-up Dan (as he’s called now) back to the Overlook. He remembers a dad (Henry Thomas) with darting Jack Nicholson eyebrows and a mother (Alex Essoe) with Shelley Duvall saucer eyes.
Meanwhile — well, there’s a whole lot of meanwhile.
In print, Doctor Sleep runs to 531 pages, which is fairly compact by King’s recent standards. This screen adaptation feels like a clumsy hybrid. It’s a little too long and winding to work as a feature film, especially in the horror genre, and might have worked better as a limited series, with a little more room for the many characters who populate its grimly imagined American landscape. Its slow pacing and diffuse suspense make the experience more like a book on tape than anything else, in spite of a few lively performances.
Dan joins forces with a young girl named Abra (Kyliegh Curran, making an impressive film debut), who lives in another part of New Hampshire and who has gifts similar to his. Though if his extrasensory abilities shine, hers blaze like stadium lights. Her powers attract the attention of a predatory cabal known as the Knot, who travel the country in a caravan looking for psychically talented children to torture and kill. Their leader is Rose (Rebecca Ferguson), a blue-eyed seductress in a Babadook hat.
The Knot feeds on steam, which is the soul energy (or something) that escapes from shiners in their death throes. Sometimes, as in the case of a sullen teenager (Emily Alyn Lind), the Knot recruits youngsters instead of devouring them. It’s not clear what they plan to do with Abra, but she and Dan fight back using wild mental tricks which Flanagan conveys by means of mostly pedestrian, occasionally surprising special effects.
Doctor Sleep is a not a Stephen-King-scares-the-pants-off-you kind of movie. It’s a Stephen-King-invites-you-to-ponder-the-nature-of-evil kind of movie. (It managed to be both; It Chapter Two failed to be either.) There are some bad sections — the gratuitously sadistic rendering of a Knot victim’s fate — and some not-bad ones. Nothing that will keep you awake at night, but you probably won’t fall asleep in the middle either.
© 2019 The New York Times