In keeping with the current vogue for massively delayed sequels (see also: Blade Runner 2049 and Mary Poppins Returns), Doctor Sleep has arrived. It is a follow-up to The Shining and concentrates on the now grown-up Danny Torrance, as played by Ewan McGregor, now an alcoholic due to the pain he suffered at his father’s hands. However, he must gird his loins to fight the powers of darkness, as played, deliciously, by Rebecca Ferguson as the ageless, telekinetic nemesis Rose the Hat, who sustains her beauty by draining her psychic victims’ “steam”.
The film is both enjoyable and frustrating. On its own terms, it works well as a nerve-jangling psychic thriller, with a good mixture of scares and tension. Ferguson is an unusual, chilling villain. But its larger problem is that it is simultaneously an adaptation of Stephen King’s 2013 novel, a sequel to the original 1977 book, and a follow-up to Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film. This leads to a tonal uncertainty that is only partially ameliorated by its extended climax: a return to the Overlook Hotel.
King’s original novel, as published in 1977, is justifiably regarded as one of his greatest books, a terrifying and white-knuckle journey into a supernatural hell set in a malevolent and sentient hotel. It was inevitably ripe for adaptation, but nobody quite expected the attention of the already legendary auteur Kubrick. He had not directed a film since the brilliant Barry Lyndon (1975), which had underperformed at the box office compared to A Clockwork Orange (1971) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). He wanted a hit. It was an unlikely match, but the deal was made.
The filming of The Shining is the stuff of legends. Kubrick spent over a year making it, and filmed takes over and over again, sometimes more than a hundred times. Jack Nicholson, who played the difficult role of Jack Torrance, took it in his stride, although he wryly commented “Stanley’s demanding. He’ll do a scene fifty times, and you have to be good to do that.”
Kubrick’s perfectionism only grew. At one point, Wendy Torrance, wife of Jack, played by Shelley Duvall, to her horror, finds that her husband’s much-worried-over novel simply consists of the phrase “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” written over and over again. Kubrick had a set assistant write the phrase thousands of times, even though it could only be seen briefly on screen. Zealous attention to detail or near-autistic obsessiveness? The jury is still out.
One man for whom it was the latter, or worse, was King. He was horrified by what he saw as the butchery of his novel, saying “a visceral sceptic such as Kubrick just couldn’t grasp the sheer inhuman evil of The Overlook Hotel. So he looked, instead, for evil in the characters and made the film into a domestic tragedy with only vaguely supernatural overtones. That was the basic flaw: because he couldn’t believe, he couldn’t make the film believable to others.” He concluded, damningly, “What’s basically wrong with Kubrick’s version of The Shining is that it’s a film by a man who thinks too much and feels too little; and that’s why, for all its virtuoso effects, it never gets you by the throat and hangs on the way real horror should.” King even wrote and produced his own made for TV adaptation of his book, which was not a success and failed to supplant Kubrick’s film in the popular imagination.