Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is today revered as a horror masterpiece. It was adapted from Stephen King’s 1977 tale of a frustrated writer (axe-wielding Jack Nicholson), who co-opts his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and their five-year-old psychic son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), for a winter’s caretaking job at the isolated and seemingly empty Overlook Hotel – only to find there are more guests there than meet the eye. The Shining routinely tops polls as the greatest scary movie of all time. Indeed, such is the enduring fascination with Kubrick’s film that a 2012 documentary, Room 237, is dedicated to unlocking its mysteries – or perpetuating them. Yet it wasn’t always thus.
Released in 1980 to lukewarm critical reception, The Shining’s worst review came from Stephen King himself. The writer was so publicly hacked off with what he considered Kubrick’s unfaithful approach to his book, that he went on to produce a rival TV version of his own in the 1990s. The very notion of a sequel to Kubrick’s The Shining would therefore seem like a red (redrum?) flag to a bull. So you can imagine the relief felt by the Doctor Sleep team this June, when Stephen King tweeted, “This movie is going to blow your mind.” And if Stephen King tells us that, we know we’re in for a seriously dark, twisty ride.
Based on King’s own 2013 best-seller, Doctor Sleep continues the story of The Shining 40 years on. Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) may not have stepped into the Overlook Hotel for decades, yet the trauma he endured there scarred him for life, and those angry ghosts won’t let him be. Like his father, Danny’s drifted through alcoholism, eventually finding peace with a job in a hospice. However, that fragile peace is shattered upon meeting Abra (newcomer Kyliegh Curran), a teen who shares Danny’s extrasensory gift, which she calls “magic” and he calls the “shine”. The two must join forces if they are to defeat the smilingly sinister Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson, The Greatest Showman), leader of The True Knot, a group who feed off the shine of innocents in order to achieve immortality.
There’s something eternally boyish about McGregor, as his recent casting as Winnie-The-Pooh’s grown-up Christopher Robin also touchingly proved. Yet it wasn’t just that which made the Star Wars actor ideal for Danny. “We wanted someone that looked like he could actually be the offspring of Nicholson and Shelley Duvall,” Doctor Sleep’s writer/director Mike Flanagan (Oculus, The Haunting Of Hill House) has declared.
That dedication to provide a visual DNA between the two films is an example of the many connective riffs and reflections that fans of Kubrick’s film can expect to relish here. There’s also the promised return of the spooky twins, the rotting lady in the bathtub, the elevators gushing with blood, and flashbacks to little Danny pedalling his tricycle around the Overlook’s corridors, laid with that mesmerising red, orange and brown hexagonal carpet. As such, Doctor Sleep is set to provide the missing link between the text and screen versions of The Shining’s story.