Friday, 1 November 2019



The worst thing you can come out of a cinema thinking isn't "that was absolutely awful, complete waste of time, utter rubbish". Rather, it's "well, it's okay, I suppose". And sadly this followup to The Shining, 39 years since the film came out, is little more than "okay, I suppose". Even given that I've never been a huge fan of The Shining itself, which I nevertheless rewatched on DVD last week as homework, I found myself strangely disappointed in Doctor Sleep: it's long, it takes its time and it doesn't actually get creepy until it finally, finally returns to the Overlook. As niche sub-sub-genres go, "2019 sequels based on Stephen King novels in which tortured adults are compelled to revisit the site of their childhood horrors, and take over two and a half hours in the process" is pretty narrow but it least The Shining: Chapter Two (as no-one is calling it) is slightly better, or less of a letdown anyway, than It: Chapter Two.

Whereas all but the opening five minutes or so of The Shining took place within the Overlook and centred predominantly around three people, Doctor Sleep is all over the place in terms of time and place and with a far larger set of characters. By the time it gets to the adult Danny Torrance (now played by Ewan McGregor), a recovering alcoholic drifter hiding from his own supernatural abilities and his past horrors, we have also met Rose The Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), leader of a nomadic sort-of-family known as the True Knot who track down other shiners, seeking to remain immortal by consuming their victims' superpower "steam". Their latest target is 13-year-old Abra, who has established a telepathic link with Danny Torrance...

There is, happily, a lot of The Shining in Doctor Sleep, principally in the third act at the now-derelict, blizzard-strewn Overlook hotel, meticulously recreated right down to the chandeliers, Jack Nicholson's old typewriter and those godawful carpets. Wisely, recurring characters are played by look-a-bit-likes rather than CGI simulations along the lines of zombie Peter Cushing from Rogue One, and there are a few pleasingly odd touches such as Danny Torrance's interview for a hospice job apparently taking place in the same room as Jack Torrance's interview at the Overlook. It's also nice to occasionally see a film with the taller 1.85 ratio rather than the full widescreen 2.35 that pretty much every film seems to be shot in these days (the DVD of The Shining is in the even squarer 1.33, which was apparently Kubrick's own preference).

Doctor Sleep does have occasional hints of David Cronenberg's Scanners, with its ongoing psychic battles and the idea of telepathically superpowered "others" amongst us. The other film it brings to mind, though, is Near Dark for its clan of travelling near-immortals whose consumption of their victims' lifeforce is almost vampiric (be it their Shining or their actual blood). What the film isn't, though, is scary at any point: it is occasionally creepy towards the end because the Overlook is such a marvellously creepy setting anyway. That said, I never really thought The Shining itself was that scary in the first place: interesting, unusual, odd, different, fascinating, surprising, but not scary, and it wasn't even scary in the King-approved miniseries version. Certainly Doctor Sleep is interesting, unusual, occasionally surprising etcetera, but Not Scary. In the end it's fine: it's well played and shot and has some agreeably horrible moments, but it doesn't ever seem to come to full roaring life. It's okay, I suppose, but I do wish I could say it was better than that.