The film is also meant to be a direct sequel to Kubrick’s, reproducing many of its best-remembered visual ingredients, including the set design for the haunted labyrinth known as the Overlook Hotel. Ultimately, though, there’s little doubt where Flanagan’s loyalties lie. Like King, he’s basically a traditional storyteller — and compared to the alienating stop-start rhythms favoured by Kubrick, Doctor Sleep is a smoothly functioning narrative machine.
Not that the cogs turn with any great speed. Flanagan’s recent credits include the TV adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, and Doctor Sleep is structured much like long-form TV, cross-cutting between characters while showing no hurry to bring them together.
In the present, the troubled young telepath Danny Torrance has grown into a troubled middle-aged alcoholic (Ewan McGregor). His psychic ability to ‘‘shine’’ remains, as do his memories of the Overlook and of his monstrous father Jack — played unforgettably in Kubrick’s film by Jack Nicholson, and here (after a fashion) by Henry Thomas, striving to imitate Nicholson’s hungry grin.
After kicking the booze, Dan finds an unlikely vocation as a hospital orderly, using his special powers to comfort dying patients (a subplot so peripheral it could have been dropped, except it supplies the title).
Far away, at least on the physical plane, lurk a band of mystical villains resembling a hippie cult, who achieve something like immortality by torturing and murdering children (trigger warnings are warranted, though Flanagan shows some discipline in determining just how many ghastly close-ups he’ll allow himself).
Next in line to be consumed is a gifted 12-year-old named Abra (Kyliegh Curran) who shares a telepathic bond with Dan. After much build-up these two finally meet face-to-face — and from there Doctor Sleep hasn’t many surprises to spring, though the plot still has miles to go.
With the conventional prestige picture in decline, Hollywood seems to be turning to alternate models of classy product, one of which is so-called ‘‘elevated’’ horror. This is at best a mixed blessing, though at least these films are usually well-cast: Rebecca Ferguson goes to town here as cult leader Rose the Hat, whose evil is accompanied by both theatrical flair and an attractive bohemian freedom.
The task of keeping us emotionally engaged falls to McGregor — an uncommonly versatile actor, if not in the most obvious sense. While he may be yet to master a fully convincing American accent, he can fit into films of seemingly any tone or genre, showing equal comfort with minimalism or shameless cheese. His performance here draws on some of this range, tending by necessity towards the less subtle end of the spectrum: Dan’s last lines in particular are the sort many actors might struggle to utter convincingly with a straight face.
Superficial homages aside, few echoes of Kubrick’s peculiar genius can be found anywhere in Doctor Sleep. I was, however, reminded of a recent film no less divisive than The Shining: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, in which the real-life Manson Family figure as a rough equivalent to Rose’s sinister crew.
While Tarantino’s critics often write him off as a crude black-and-white moralist, careful examination invariably reveals a more complex picture. But with Doctor Sleep, no room is left to doubt that the good characters merit sympathy and the bad ones deserve to suffer. That would be fine in a fairytale, if it were short and sweet enough, but it seems a meagre vision for two and a half hours.